Students catch computer science bug with 3D games

Learning to create 3D games helps open door for high school students

As Brandeis students pack up and head out for the summer, they make way for a younger population to get a crack at campus life.

Over six weeks this summer, Encounters at Brandeis, a family of immersive, residential programs for teens, is welcoming 400 young students to campus. And for the first time, established experiential and service learning programs like BIMA, Genesis, and Impact Boston, are being joined by new programs, including the Global Youth Summit on Medicine, Mock Trial Boot Camp and CIEE English Academy.

One newcomer to the lineup is 3D Game Design, which lets participants develop and build their own video games, including storylines, sounds and visuals, using the free, open-source platform, Blender.

“I play and enjoy video games but I didn’t realize there was such a big gaming community,” says Tami Poliwoda, a rising junior from Toronto. She was one of 17 teenagers from around the country who signed up for eight days of instruction, bonding and fun. Poliwoda, who wanted to learn new skills not offered at her Jewish day school, says she also came away with a close-knit group of friends.

Computer science professor Tim Hickey says he was partly motivated to develop and offer the course to help correct a lack of diversity in the field.

“It’s a huge problem,” says Hickey, because the computer science professions and courses are mostly filled with white men. “It’s partially a misunderstanding of what computer science is. One of the ways to address this imbalance is to use something I already know kids are excited about — 3D gaming — to get them involved.”

In addition to traditional computer lab learning, students visit Google, play Parkour (a training discipline using movement), get input on their games from professional designers, and debate the ethics of gaming.

Rebecca Anisman, a rising senior from Florida, loves video games but considers herself primarily a fiction writer. For her, that was part of the program’s draw. “I love creating that story, creating those characters, and seeing it play through,” she says.

Hickey says piquing students’ interest at a young age with engaging subject matter, is a first step in addressing the lack of diversity in computer programming, and this approach seems to work: The program’s inaugural run at Brandeis drew several young women and students from all backgrounds.

“Hopefully they caught the computer science bug, not just game designing,” says Hickey.

Categories: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Science and Technology, Student Life

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