Recent higher education reports have raised questions about the persistence of inequality in gender representation among college students in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines in the last decade. Employment in the technology sector continues to reflect this disparity. Two local groups are taking steps to reverse this trend by increasing access to tech workshops that encourage young women to pursue careers in STEM-related fields.
The idea is to make a set of self-contained online instructional videos and educational materials that will guide middle-school and high-school age students –and their teachers- through a basic game design curriculum. Drexel University’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio is working with the Philadelphia nonprofit TechGirlz to create a virtual game design class that will be made available, free-of-charge, to schools and students nationwide.
“Our goal is to give young women a little taste of game design,” said Frank Lee, PhD, an associate professor in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and founder of the Entrepreneurial Game Studio. “Many of them are already playing video games, but we’re hoping our workshops will inspire them to ask questions about how they’re made, and think about how they could make them better. We want to make a program that is useful and engaging enough that students will get enough basic coding knowledge to make a simple game.”
The project, which is funded by a grant from the Entertainment Software Association Foundation, will draw on the game design background of Lee and the core staff of the EGS, Arianna Gass and Robert Gray; and a group of young technology enthusiasts from TechGirlz, who will help test the materials.
Drexel’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio will host a series of TechGirlz workshops to test the game design curriculum that will be made available online. TechGirlz has been giving middle-school and high-school-age students hands-on experience with different kinds of technology through workshops and summer camps for the last five years. As part of their workshops this year, participants will be testing out a game design curriculum put together by the EGS team.
“Our hope is that these workshops will empower and educate young women who are eager to learn and become interested in the game industry,” said Tracey Welson Rossman, founder of TechGirlz. “Adding a workshop that focused on game development seemed like a natural fit with our existing TechShopz in a Box curricula.”
“We are very lucky to have a group like TechGirlz right here with us in Philadelphia,” Lee said. “These young women are the types of students who will ideally be using our videos and materials, so their input is vital to making this a useful program.”
The curriculum of the game development workshops will offer an activity-based introduction to game design principles using the popular gaming engine called Unity. A second, more advanced course will lead students through a code-a-long, which will teach them how to use and adjust variables in Unity to transform their ready-made game into something else entirely. Both workshops feature a game developed by the Entrepreneurial Game Studio for TechGirlz.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to make one of my dreams a reality,” said Lee, whose giant games of Tetris and Pong on the Cira Center have wowed citywide audiences the last two years. “I think we have an opportunity to not only inspire dreamers, but to also give them the tools they need to realize those dreams.”