Dana Suskind, M.D.
Director and Principal Investigator
Dr. Suskind is Professor of Surgery at the University of Chicago, Director of the Pediatric Cochlear Implant Program and Founder and Director of the Thirty Million Words® Initiative. Based on scientific research that shows the critical importance of early language exposure on the developing child, Thirty Million Words® helps parents enhance their home language environment in order to optimize their child’s brain development and, therefore, his or her ability to learn.
An evidence-based intervention, Thirty Million Words® is supported by a broad coalition of public and private partnerships and is an extension of Dr. Suskind’s Project ASPIRE, which she created to assure that her patients from disadvantaged backgrounds reached their full listening and spoken language potentials. Dr. Suskind’s ultimate goal, and that of her dedicated team, is to help all children reach their full potentials and to close the ever-widening achievement gap.
Co-Director and Director, Innovation and Social Marketing
Suskind joined the Thirty Million Words® Initiative and Project ASPIRE in 2011 after 15 years in television. As a Producer/Show Runner, she was responsible for all aspects of pre-production, production and post-production for series on such networks as NBC, TLC and A&E. In Suskind’s current role, she applies that same set of skills to overseeing the day-to-day development and implementation of Thirty Million Words® and Project ASPIRE. Her primary focus is creating multimedia components and crafting messaging for both projects. She also contributes to module and professional development. Most of all, Suskind enjoys working with the families who are at the heart of the programs.
Leffel joined Dr. Suskind in 2009 to help build Thirty Million Words® and Project ASPIRE from ideas into reality. Her early work with the programs included curriculum and intervention development, home visiting, and implementation of early pilot studies. Leffel now oversees the longitudinal evaluation of the Thirty Million Words Home Visiting curriculum and builds and fosters community partnerships and collaborations. Leffel’s relationships with the families in the programs solidified her passion for working to confront health disparities and promoting the health of socially disenfranchised populations through evidence-based social innovation. Leffel holds a BS in social policy from Northwestern University.
Gillian Moloney joined the Thirty Million Words® Initiative in August 2015 as an assessor and Research Assistant. In her role as an assessor, Moloney administers assessment measures of executive function, receptive and expressive language, self-efficacy and social-emotional development to participants in the study before and after their exposure to the experimental curriculum. As a research assistant, Moloney is responsible for meeting with participants to obtain informed consent, instructing them on the use of LENA recording devices, coordinating standardized video recordings, and reviewing the experimental curriculum with participants after administration. Moloney holds a BA in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College, Annapolis.
Tara Robinson, MS, CCC-SLP
Robinson joined the Thirty Million Words® team in January 2015. As a clinical speech language pathologist with a strong background in research, Robinson is passionate about demonstrating efficacy in early childhood intervention programs. Currently she oversees the data collection in the longitudinal study of the Thirty Million Words Home Visiting curriculum ensuring standardization of parental and child measures. Robinson holds a MS from Purdue University in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences and a BS from Taylor University in Psychology.
Macarena Gálvez, BS
Gálvez is a Speech and Language Pathologist graduated from Chile. She joined Thirty Million Words® in September of 2014. She is part of the team that develops the Spanish Newborn and Well Baby Programs that provide research-based techniques on how to enhance Latino children’s environment for their language and brain development. She is committed to encouraging Latino parents to talk to their children in their native Spanish and maintain their cultural traditions in order to offer them the advantages of being bilingual, as well as a stronger sense of identity.
Heidi Bojorges, BS
Bojorges joined Dr. Suskind in 2014 after eight years of teaching high school English on Chicago’s West Side. With a background in education, Bojorges is passionate about research aimed at closing the achievement gap. Bojorges’ current role includes implementing the Thirty Million Words curriculum through home visiting and assisting with other components of the longitudinal study. Bojorges is continually inspired by the parents she works with and their dedication to using the 3Ts to build their children’s brains and get them ready for school.
Michelle Saenz, BS
Saenz joined Thirty Million Words in 2014 after earning a degree in Biological Sciences from DePaul University. With a background in research, Saenz was passionate about working in social science research and most importantly, getting to work directly with families. Saenz’s current role includes implementing the Thirty Million Words curriculum through home visiting and assisting with other components of the Longitudinal Study. Saenz most enjoys seeing the families happy when they feel empowered are reaching their goals, when it comes to giving their child a head start.
Natalie Gray-Rodriguez, MA
Natalie Gray-Rodriguez is a Healthcare Advocacy Professional with over seventeen years of experience in launching dynamic and unconventional disease awareness programs in the public health sector and biotechnology industries. Prior to taking on the Research Specialist position, Ms. Gray-Rodriguez worked as Regional Manager of a disease awareness program at Abbott Laboratory. She has also worked in the non-profit sector managing HIV/He C programs that were geared toward the indigent population. Also, Ms. Gray-Rodriguez served as a Health Educator in the United States Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. Ms. Gray-Rodriguez holds a MA from Western Illinois. Gray-Rodriguez administers the Thirty Million Words Nutrition Curriculum to families.
Phyllis Ratliff is currently working as a Home Visitor with the Thirty Million Words Initiative. For the last eighteen years, she worked with the financial industry, customer service and healthcare. In the fall of 2015, she will enroll in a nutrition program to obtain a degree.
Designer and Animator
Gabi Bernard joined the Thirty Million Words team in early 2015 to create animations and graphics for TMW slideshows and printouts. Since joining the team, she has has also begun overhauling the TMW website and has perfected the art of editing photos of babies. When she’s not adjusting the eyebrow movement in older animations for an upcoming TMW video, Bernard attends classes at the University of Chicago as an undergraduate majoring in Visual Arts.