Last Friday, the students in Game Art & Design attended the US2020 STEM n Art Expo at The Frontier in RTP. This was the second US2020 field trip I have taken students on in the past couple of years. This expo presented them with an opportunity for them to learn about different ways that various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers use art to accomplish their goals. The event was split into three experiences: Path to the Park, Speed Mentoring and a Food Truck Rodeo for lunch.
Most students seemed to really enjoy the speed mentoring the most. In speed mentoring, students had an opportunity to speak with four to five different individuals while discussing what they do in four minute bursts. It was interesting to see the kids move around quickly to interact face-to-face with complete strangers while not being distracted by each other or their technologies. This may be something I can use in my classroom, though not in a mentoring fashion.
In Path to the Park, several displays were set up featuring a wide variety of careers. Students got to take part in a wide variety of hands-on exhibits ranging from scientific research to audio and graphical work. As one would expect, the display to draw the largest interest from both my students and the kids in attendance in general was display on virtual reality. This booth allowed students got to experience an HTC Vive by using Tilt Brush to paint in 3D space. This display was was the most relevant exhibit to game design, though they did have a hacking Minecraft display as well.
While you would expect an hour of downtime for lunch during the Food Truck Rodeo, I was pleasantly surprised to see they had set up one more display outside. While the focus for most kids was on eating during this time, several explored a display on robotics. They also enjoyed checking out the makeshift shop they put on-site.
The only surprise, or downside, to this event was that there weren't any representatives from the game industry present. Seeing as we have such a large game industry in the RTP area, this really surprised and disappointed me. But, overall, this field trip was a success as kids got to see that the skills they learn as game design students can be transferred to a wide variety of careers. There seemed to be a lot of younger students in attendance. This makes me wonder if I should take Sci Vis kids next year instead of Game Design...or maybe both. Regardless, I would definitely consider taking students again next year, depending on the topic of the event.
As a Career & Technical Education (CTE) teacher, I understand how powerful it can be to expose our students to industry experiences. And, over the years, I have done so at every possible opportunity. This is one of the reasons I take my advanced students to the East Coast Game Conference (ECGC) every Spring. At the conference, they get to hear from and interact with industry leaders in the game industry. But, I also want my younger students to have this kind of exposure as well, even though I know they are not ready for the freedom and responsibility that I provide to students attending such a large scale event.
Last year, I took my students in Game Art & Design to the US2020 RTP STEM Expo, which focused on the game industry. This event had the feel of ECGC on a much smaller scale. It gave students access to both industry professionals and colleges/universities that offer degrees in game design, allowing them to hear about the various topics that matter to the industry while exploring industry careers and the higher education needed to attain them. The size of the expo made it more suitable for my younger students and easier to supervise them. I will be taking this year's GAD students back for their second expo in a few weeks which is focusing on the use of art in STEM careers. While it's a more general topic than the previous expo, it still equally relates to our game design concentration.
Another way I can expose students to industry professionals involves inviting guest speakers to visit my classes. Although this does not always work out as I often have two classes of the same curriculum separated by one or more periods each day, I haven't had any issues so far this year. My schedule is really convenient for guest speakers staying for multiple classes for the first time since I started teaching. Over the past two weeks, students in Sci Vis have been introduced to two industry professionals who spoke about using visualization techniques in their individual careers.
The first to visit my class was assistant director Richard White. He has worked on films such as Terminator: Genysis, 300: Rise of an Empire and the upcoming Max Steel as well as several TV shows. He explained to the students how digital effects are an integral part of the film industry, even at those moments when you think they are using live special effects such as bullet shots. He also explained how they use digital mock-ups of scenes for previsualizations in order to make the live shoot go much smoother and to make directorial edits before involving the entire film crew and actors.
They were also visited by Colin Dwan from Prologue Games, located right here in Durham. He discussed what skills are used in the creation of his narrative style games, which are currently being converted to VR. He provided real-world advice that mimics the information I give my students about employment in the game industry from a position of personal experience. This is something I am unable to do for them and it is always powerful for them to hear about how difficult it is to work in the game industry as well as the skill set they need to develop and how it connects with what I teach them over their four years in my classes. He also explained the tools that are used in the creation of his games, most of which are learned by students in the GAD concentration throughout their time in high school.
However, hearing from industry professionals is not solely important for my younger students. My CTE Advanced Studies students are working closely with the team from Lucid Dream VR in creating their virtual reality experience for Growing Change. In doing so, they get to learn how the same tools that create video games can be used outside of the game industry. They also learn what it is like to have real-world clients, how to work as a small design team, and how to overcome project difficulties as they arise.
Down the road, I have plans to bring several other professionals into my classroom. My daughter, Melanie Fisher-Wellman, who not only graduated from DSA herself but is the creative director for Boostopia B2C can speak as a graphic designer on the importance of understanding how to use the design principles as well as elements of design. Pierce Freelon of Blackspace Durham, a hub for Afrofuturist thought, can discuss his creative ventures in support of African-American youth. In the past, I have brought in Dr. Chris Hazard of Hazardous Software who works in the field of game theory both in terms of his own game company and as a contractor for the federal government. And, having such a huge connection to the game industry in our area, I am currently attempting to make some connections at Epic Games as well.
Each connection with industry professionals that I can provide gives my students a unique perspective on the creative industries and how the digital art are used outside of a school setting. While I hope these connections inspire my students to be even more interested in my curriculum and aware of how the skills they learn in GAD relate to more than just video games, hearing from industry professionals can also provide direction to students who might not be sure about what they want to do some day after high school.
I am a high school Career & Technical Education (CTE) teacher located in Durham, NC with a focus on game art and design. This blog provides a place for reflection on relevant classroom practices.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer or anyone else associated with Durham Public Schools.