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Scholars Speak

In her own words: Theodora Kourkoulou

2024 ISPP Scholar Dora Kourkoulou


As an ISPP Scholar, Theodora (Dora) Kourkoulou is appointed with the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, Office of Broadband. Her work is significant as she focuses on digital equity for return citizens with less knowledge of digital technologies, and as she looks for ways to bring digital equity seamlessly into communities the diverse communities of Illinois through app creation. Dora shared some thoughts with me about the ISP program, and his work so far.

Why did you apply for the Illini Science Policy Program?

I wanted to get some hands-on experience with the world of policymaking. When I applied, I was finishing a research-intensive Ph.D. program on Educational Policy, Organization, and Leadership with an emphasis on digital literacies, equity, and video games. The Office of the Broadband, as an entity that addresses digital equity, was particularly fascinating as a space where my research interests met with policy.

Tell us a bit about what you hope to accomplish as a result of being a 2024 Scholar.

I want to finish, of course, the projects that I started (see below). Also, to have a good grasp of the digital equity and digital literacy initiatives in the State of Illinois (a lot is happening) and to have already carved a role for myself in this effort.

Tell us a bit about what you are working on for your host agency.

Lately, a large part of my work has been devoted to the development of a digital literacy curriculum for learners who have less experience with technology. Besides the development and design, this has involved various meetings with organizations across Illinois that either have invested interest or have developed curricula themselves. We have met with platform creators. However, I am also involved in social media and communication work, document and grant reviews, and supporting my other scholar colleagues in data visualization efforts.

Tell us a bit about what you are working with your Extension Mentor (or what you will be doing)?

My plan is to create an educational app for digital literacies. This is still under development.

What does being in public service mean to you?

Attention to detail. Group work, often with conflicting agents and interests, alongside a larger vision.

What makes the work you are doing as an ISPP Scholar meaningful to you? 

My work as ISPP makes sense because of the aforementioned larger vision: the building of infrastructure is a stepping stone toward creating the conditions so that every citizen of Illinois can explore their creative potential, and can have a voice and equal participation in the creative and digital economies.

What is one thing that you have learned since becoming an ISPP Scholar that has made an impression on your transition from graduate student to career individual?

How many people are really involved in policymaking and are passionate about it.

Why is/are the issue(s) important to the communities with which you are working?

Digital equity is the civil rights issue of the 21st century, according to late congressman John Lewis. The expansion of digital technologies has meant that pretty much every aspect of our activity, including financial wellness and civic engagement are facilitated through that. Digital equity is a matter of participation in the economic, political and social life of a community.

Who is impacted by the issue(s) you are working on?

Pretty much everyone. This is a state-wide effort, and it is leaning on underserved or unserved areas in Illinois, where connectivity is lagging behind. However, because of the nature of digital technologies, the public educational resources outcomes that come out of it can be available to anyone as research or standard of practice.

What is the most unexpected thing about this program so far?

I mentioned it before; the most unexpected thing was the large number of people and organizations involved in policymaking and implementation. Also, not entirely unexpected, but I was pleasantly surprised by the invested interest and support in the host agency for our professional development as scholars.

If you could do one thing through this program and think “Wow, I did that,” what would you like it to be?

To complete my digital literacies curriculum project would be a dream accomplishment! If I can expand the definition of digital literacies to more critical elements of the curriculum, I would be thrilled.  

Anything else you’d like to share?

The program is great, and the two people who make it great for me deserve an acknowledgment –at least: Dr Evangeline Pianfetti (Director of ISPP) and Nancy Ouedraogo (Extension mentor), have supported, listened, and provided solutions to the tiny problems and the larger ones.


More information about the Illini Science Policy Program is available on our website. Keep reading to learn more about Dora's colleagues in the of 2024 ISPP Scholar Class.