2019 Service Excellence of the Year Winner

College of Engineering’s Dr. Heather Marriott Awarded Service Excellence of the Year Award

On Oct. 9, 2019, Dr. Heather Marriott, Assistant Professor of Computer Science for the College of Engineering’s Department of Computer, Electrical, and Software Engineering, was the recipient of the 2019 Service Excellence of the Year Award. During her achievement recognition, she describes her feelings as “very surprised” when named the “overall annual service award winner”, an annual award she wasn’t entirely familiar with. Dr. Hong Zhan, of the Embry-Riddle Language Institution, nominated Marriott for this award after her completion of Eagle Mandarin, an interactive learning tool Zhan requested to aid her Chinese students in their studies.

Not only was Marriott exceeding the expectations of a professor, but also as a parent, for “my son was learning Mandarin and I had come up with an app to help him study. Zhan initially approached me after hearing word of the foundation of this app; the beta version was very basic, and he (Marriott’s son) was the only one using it.” With a more concrete solution requested, Marriott took to the computer, putting in a “lot of extra time” and adding “some new features like speech recognition”. 

While the Swift coding was no hassle for this computer science professor, she did utilize Zhan’s Chinese students with “the testing and supply of the vocabulary words and their translations.” Marriott attributes student recognition to Matthew Konicki, Yi Xu, and Siyu Zhou for all their help. “Because I don’t speak Mandarin”, she did have some difficulties in the overall process, yet found comfort in her son’s willingness “to find bugs in my code.”

To keep user’s attention, for language learning can be a struggle, Marriott implemented stimulating colors and pandas on the user interface. So, as the user progresses through the vocabulary, they will “earn pandas and earn bamboo to feed the pandas.” As the Chinese professors always say, ‘Chinese is an extensive and daily language.’ To encourage this, Marriott included a feature where if a word is incorrectly chosen or the game is not played daily, the pandas will run away, and all is lost. 

Embodying the living-learning environment ERAU hosts, Marriott is “still making improvements to this day.” When asked about the app’s future and the longevity of its relevance, Marriott responded, “Adding in new vocabulary for other classes is easy and I am happy to add new words any time Dr. Zhan needs them. A new version of the app was just released Oct. 14th with the words her students will need to finish off the semester.” With the future in sight, Marriott plans to “add more mini-games” and continue her “two projects in the works.” Keep an eye out as she mentors the capstone team, “Augmented Reality Learning Game,” and helps in designing an aviation mobile app, with the target audience being “foreign language students in the flight program here at Embry-Riddle.”