MSU Game Design Ranks among Princeton Review’s Top 20 and #1 in Big Ten

Posted on: April 3, 2017

One day, you’re at home playing your favorite video game after school. The next, you’re stepping into a classroom to learn how to design the next generation’s go-to game.

With a brand new multi-million dollar media space and technically-skilled faculty, Game Design students at Michigan State University are receiving an education that ranks among the Princeton Review's top 20 and number one in the Big Ten conference.

At number 10 for undergraduate programs, and with a graduate program right behind that at number 11 in a separate ranking for graduate schools, MSU is making its presence known.

We have made significant investments in our program in the last year including hiring three new games faculty, creation of the interactive media and motion capture studio and revising our curriculum within Media and Information to add several new game art and design courses,” said Brian Winn, director of undergraduate studies and an associate professor in the Department of Media and Information.

gelStudents who enroll in classes for the game design program, housed in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, come from a variety of majors including studio art, computer science and engineering as well as media and information.

“Our program is very interdisciplinary,” said Winn. “Students collaborate on teams (in classes), assuming the role most closely related to their major, to build game projects. This gives them a very authentic game making experience that closely resembles the real-world.”

The program and its courses enable students to graduate with priceless knowledge, which translates into an impressive portfolio of creative work completed as classwork or for external clients.

The curriculum offers students the option to work with both games for entertainment and serious games. Johannes Bauer, chair of the Department of Media and Information, explained that serious games are strong at the graduate level.

He added that the program’s students show immense talent for furthering the industry, “The students have a very deep knowledge in game design and game development. Some of them come from more of a creative side, others come from a technical and programming side. Our curriculum offers them both opportunities.”

With spaces like the Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab and the recently opened Immersive Media Studio, fit with the technology to design and produce virtual reality gaming experiences, the program at Michigan State University continues to help students use and build upon their individual skill sets and support them to excel in their future careers.

For Peter Burroughs, media and information senior, the program has taught him new ways to evolve his talent for traditional art that he discovered in high school and apply it to 3D modeling, concept art painting, visual effects, art direction, project management and asset implementation. In addition, he says the program has to work with others and to embrace the skills and contributions they bring to the team.

“The professors and upperclassmen have taught me an incredible amount about making video games, and my peers in the program have become like family to me,” said Burroughs. “Working together during all-nighters will do that to you!”

By Savannah Swix

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MSU to Partner with Indian Media Giant, Helping Local Farmers

Posted on: March 14, 2017


This article was originally published on MSU Today 

The project involves the university’s communication and agriculture experts and the Ramoji Media Group, a multi-media giant that reaches some 620 million Indians with television stations, films, newspapers and online media.

The Hyderabad-based Ramoji is launching a new channel for farmers struggling to feed a growing population. MSU will help Ramoji identify stories about agricultural innovations that can help meet climate change, drought, flooding and other production challenges.

The partnership includes an exchange of materials between MSU and the media company, such as education and research, publications, academic information and media content. MSU faculty and research scholars aim to work with producers at RFC to create television programming in multiple Indian languages.

“This project is an important intersection of content, distribution and expertise,” said Amol Pavangadkar, director of Sandbox Studios and senior specialist with media and information in MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences. “MSU knows agriculture and communication and RFC has the creative programming capacity and reach needed to engage farmers and other stakeholders.”

MSU officials from the collegamol-pavangadkar_lges of Communication Arts and Sciences, Agricultural and Natural Resources, Education, Engineering and Business, as well as International Studies and Programs and MSU Extension, signed an agreement to work on the project during a recent visit to India. They met with government, higher education, foundation and corporate executives and reviewed partnership options. Each college has submitted development ideas, research and concepts for consideration to pitch to RFC for future programming.

“This cross-continental partnership, involving a media empire and a higher educational institution, is unusual in that complementary institutional strengths are being leveraged to address global issues,” said Satish Udpa, executive vice president. “The goals of the partnership are truly aligned with the rich traditions of MSU in transforming lives and advancing knowledge.”

The project will also benefit from The Food Fix, a multi-media news service produced by MSU’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, that reports on food systems innovation as part of MSU’s Global Center for Food Systems Innovation.

“We’re looking forward to helping Ramoji identify and produce similar stories,” said David Poulson, senior associate director of MSU’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. “The kind of research MSU supports provides plenty of material about safely producing and distributing food. These important stories need to be told globally.”

The project also continues the long relationship between RFC and MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Science, established by Pavangadkar through his study abroad program. The students undertake production workshops and seminars on Indian and world cinema and translate their experiences in India into a script for a short film, which is then produced and premiered at the end of their trip.

“The MSU partnership with Ramoji Film City offers a number of opportunities for collaboration,” said Prabu David, dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. “With a reach of more 600 million people through cable TV channels in 14 languages, RFC offers a big audience for MSU researchers in areas such as education, agriculture, health, entrepreneurship and childhood development.”

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ComArtSci alumnus Geoff Johns named President & Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment

Posted on: December 9, 2016

Many people dream of turning their passions into a career. For Geoff Johns, his love of comic books and their iconic characters - Superman, Batman, The Flash and Green Lantern - was all the fuel he needed to pursue a career in media and entertainment.

In 2016, Johns hit superhero status at DC Entertainment when he was promoted to president and chief creative officer of the company. Johns is now leading a new era for the DC Universe, revamping the stories of his favorite childhood superheroes - including Wonder Woman, who will be at the center of the first female-powered superhero movie, set to release in summer 2017.


Geoff Johns

Becoming Geoff Johns
Johns graduated from Michigan State University in 1995 and studied media arts, screenwriting, film production and film theory. As a student, he took advantage of the unique opportunities at MSU, from film club to physics classes.

“I’ll set aside the fact that it’s a beautiful campus, that the culture is amazing, that it has the biggest comic book collection in the world, which is awesome,” Johns told us, while reflecting on his time at MSU.  “But, the thing that was so valuable to me is that you find that whatever you’re interested in, they have something for it.”

Johns was drawn to classes in film and media production, and crashed MSU’s library of comic books, as he worked to develop a better knowledge of film, screenplays and characters. He also found value in the basics like economics and physics, ultimately preparing him for the business side of his budding career.

Two physics classes in particular made a lasting impact. “The physics of light and color and the physics of sound. Those two classes were really valuable to me both in my storytelling as a writer, as well as in production, because they actually taught me how light works, how color works, how we interpret sound and how sound works.”

He continued, “If you want to be a screenwriter, my advice would be don’t just take writing (classes). You need to study production, accounting, history, everything that you think will help you tell your story. I think that the more you can broaden your horizons the better, and you can do that at MSU.”

Meanwhile, across the country...
After college, Johns started his career in Los Angeles, working as an intern alongside the original Superman director, Richard Donner. He later became an assistant to Donner, wrote alongside him, and picked up industry insights along the way. In his professional career, Johns has become one of the most decorated comic book writers of his time. He has written highly acclaimed stories starring Superman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Teen Titans and Justice Society of America and is a New York Times best selling author for his comics.

As a hero in the halls of his office, Johns will play a crucial role in DC Entertainment’s current rebirth, aiming to bring DC Comics back to the basics and focus on storytelling first. Ultimately, striving to minimize the gap that lies between diehard fans and movie critics.

“At the end of the day, the thing I’m most interested in and the thing I’m most passionate about is story and character," said Johns.

One idea Johns picked up from Donner that stuck with him is the concept of superheroes as “healthy junk food,” promoting a positive message while also entertaining. Johns told us that Donner believed, "you never do entertainment under the guise of a message, you do a message under the guise of entertainment. Whether it’s Superman’s inspiration and hope, or Batman’s justice - they all have these wonderful moral qualities to them and I think that’s why people respond to these characters so much."

According to Johns, superheroes aren’t just fun to watch. It’s more about why they do what they do and how they do it that matters and is exciting to the viewer. When asked what superhero was most like him, he said it changes everyday.

“There are some days where you think you feel like Batman, where the world is dark and you have to fight back. There are days when you want to inspire like Superman. I’d say (I’m most like) Green Lantern. I love Green Lantern, I wrote him for 9 years, he’s all about willpower and perseverance and that’s how I got to where I am. I’ve got a lot of willpower and perseverance and I love what I do. And if you want to succeed that’s what you need to have.”

Wisdom built and shared
Perseverance, willpower and the ability to learn from past mistakes are all traits of popular superheroes - and even Johns himself. These traits have allowed him to face challenges head-on, working and learning as his career progressed.

“The truth is that the hurdles that I’ve faced in business and in my career have just been learning experiences. There are times when you try a new project and it doesn’t work or you’re working with someone and the chemistry isn’t producing the best work,” Johns told us. “Any kind of hurdle or challenge, as long as you keep working at it and try to learn from it, it’s ultimately a very good thing.”

Johns’ positive outlook on professional experiences - good or bad - has helped him to grow in his career. Never expecting a handout, always working for everything he’s received, Johns set out to prove himself and encourages current students to do the same.

“Being in the real world, in the job, you’re not going to be promoted just because you’ve been there a year. It’s not like school where you move on and you move up. You’ve got to prove yourself. You’ve got to work hard,” said Johns. “I loved Michigan State. I got so much from it and learned so much from my time there. And the one thing that they can’t teach you is when you’re in it. Get out here and really be a part of it.”

Sparty the next superhero?
Johns gave us some insight into what Sparty might look like as a comic book character, sharing how he would draw him.

“If we were going to draw him, he’d be as broad as Superman, maybe a little taller. We might want to give him a flowing cape, a green cape would be cool. I think he’d definitely be on the Justice League, though. He’s kind of a cross between a superhero and Popeye.”

And we’re sure that just like Johns, Sparty’s superhero would show the world how Spartans Will.

By Nikki W. O'Meara


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ComArtSci professor aims to improve family wellness with NSF Grant

Posted on: October 28, 2016

How can a virtual pet or plant help a family to establish healthy routines? Wei Peng, associate professor in the Department of Media and Information at the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, is developing a system called FRESH (Family Routine, Education, and Sensing Health) that will use familiar objects and environments to help families track wellness and improve health.

The goal of FRESH is to use mobile technology, like tablets and cell phones, to monitor a family’s behavior - including their diet, whether they eat together, their physical activity and sleeping habits. The built-in audio, motion, and light sensors necessary to acquire this information from families, as well as a unique algorithm for an app, are being developed in collaboration with MSU’s College of Engineering.  screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-4-16-06-pm

“The reason that we wanted to focus on these family routines is because these activities are very important for obesity prevention,” Peng said.

FRESH works by accessing and collecting data through sensors placed on family member devices with their permission.

The app then uses the information collected through the system, to show the findings through scenes such as a blossoming flower. As a family’s routine improves, the flower will grow and thrive, offering participants an image of their progress. The program also provides families with a support system since the app enables them to communicate with and learn from other families.

Peng said that preliminary testing in Greater Lansing shows that people are willing and excited to participate.

“Most of the families are very accepting because they see the benefits of helping the whole family to be more healthy,” she explained. “This outweighed the risk or the privacy concern.”

The collaborative project between Michigan State University and University of California, San Diego received a $1 million grant in September from the National Science Foundation and an additional $880,000 from MSU. Peng said the funding will solidify and support their 4-year plan.

By Savannah Swix


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MSU GEL Lab creates educational game that transports students of Jewish history to ancient world

Posted on: September 30, 2016


A new game engineered by a team of students and faculty in the MSU Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab in the College of ComArtSci makes history come alive for students at the Frankel Jewish Academy in southeast Michigan this fall.

"Kerem B'Yavneh"— Hebrew for "A Vineyard in Yavneh"— motivates students to engage with the academy's rabbinic curriculum and resulted from a collaboration between the GEL Lab and the academy. The game is available for Windows and Mac via the web. Students play the game on classroom iPads provided through the academy's recent technology initiative.

"It really is the first serious Jewish educational game at this level of immersion and game mechanics," says Rabbi Reuven Margrett of the Frankel Jewish Academy. "There are games and then there are good games. Staggered learning, motivation to play the game—that's what's critical with this one."

"Kerem B'Yavneh"—or "KeBY" for short—is a casual, social, homestead-simulation, world-building game similar the popular "Farmville." The game transports students to the ancient agricultural community of Yavneh where they become budding scholar-farmers. Participants lead the transformation of the community into a center of Jewish life and learning while adhering to traditional rabbinic law, culture, and practice. Students also raise families, grow crops, trade in the marketplace, and play key roles in helping Yavneh flourish.

"The goal of the game is to experience the lifestyle and challenges of people living in ancient Israel," says Margrett. "Students are also experiencing challenges and accountability with their peers."

Margrett says the game targets students in middle - or early high school who are just beginning concentrated study of Jewish history. Teachers can customize the game to their classroom lessons, and can build in rewards and incentives that motivate students to advance and move to different levels.

"We included a study-to-play feature in which students can take quizzes and earn resources or 'sparks' that they use to move further and faster in the game," says Brian Winn, an associate professor in the Department of Media and Information. "Teachers create the assignments and guide the learning, but the game serves as an additional motivator to learn."

Winn says "KeBY" drives a form of blended learning that allows students to learn independently in combination with teacher prompts and follow-up discussion. The game was developed over more than 16 months of collaboration between MSU and Frankel, and followed an earlier collaboration on "Sparks of Eternity"—an educational game that explored classic texts and cornerstones of Jewish culture.

Associate Professor of Media and Information Casey O'Donnell joined Winn in leading a team of undergraduate and graduate students in the design and testing of the game. The team came up with characters, scenarios, and settings in consult with members of the Frankel Academy. Winn says that Frankel is promoting the game to other Jewish schools, and hopes to become a leader in Jewish educational gaming through a continued partnership with MSU.

"They saw a deficit in gaming in Jewish education and came to us," says Winn. "Together, we succeeded in creating a fun and engaging game that integrates educational content in a stealthy way. Anyone can play it, and you don't realize it's a learning game and view it instead as a fun to play experience."

Established in 2005, MSU's undergraduate game design program enables students to learn the technology, design fundamentals, and development process of digital games. Students gain valuable skills in communicating and collaborating in team-based projects while building a strong portfolio of games.

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‘From Flint’ wins Student Academy Award, first time honor for MSU

Posted on: September 23, 2016
Elise Conklin, winner of the bronze medal in the documentary film category for “From Flint: Voices of a Poisoned City,” during the 43rd Annual Student Academy Awards® on Thursday, September 22, in Beverly Hills.

Elise Conklin, winner of the bronze medal in the documentary film category for “From Flint: Voices of a Poisoned City,” during the 43rd Annual Student Academy Awards® on Thursday, September 22, in Beverly Hills.

Many young people grow up dreaming of winning an Oscar someday. For five student filmmakers from Michigan State University, that dream just got a lot closer to becoming reality.

On Sept. 22, the crew of the student-produced film From Flint: Voices of a Poisoned City formally accepted a Student Academy Award after winning Bronze in the documentary category.

The award qualifies the students to submit their film for a 2016 Oscar alongside other major motion pictures, and represents the first time in MSU's history that a student film has been honored with an award from the Academy.

The award-winning crew includes Liv Larsen (producer), Elise Conklin (director), Izak Gracy (director of photography), Jenna Ange (gaffer) and Lauren Selewski (lead editor). Bob Albers, a senior video specialist in the Department of Media and Information, mentored the students through the class for which they created the film.

“It’s a validation of the quality of our students,” Albers said about the award.

Albers believes the film went all the way because of the professional quality of what he calls “the documentary craft.” He said, too, the film's subject matter is a national issue that many people care about.

He added that the student awards handed out this year by the Academy were particularly remarkable since many new schools from a wide geographic area were recognized.

“This was the first time that more awards were won by non-West Coast people, so that’s really significant,” Albers said. “The winners are not just people from the big schools, the ones that typically get these (awards).”

The whole crew attended the ceremony in Beverly Hills, California, thanks to MSU, the College of Communication Arts and Sciences and the Department of Media and Information.

Larsen said the students had not been together since graduation in the spring of 2016, so the ceremony was a long-anticipated reunion.

Conklin shared her enthusiasm about the award, as well as about the publicity that has helped promote the voices of the people of Flint.

“I’m just completely overwhelmed and so happy that Flint trusted us with their stories and we were able to tell them in a way that’s helping to raise awareness about this issue,” she said.

The film was inspired by a desire to make people realize that the crisis in Flint is not over just because the major news coverage has ceased.

“We know we made something really special, but we weren’t sure if we’d be able to get it out there and distribute it properly,” said Conklin. “But it seems like it’s actually really starting to make a huge impact and we’re so happy that we’re able to get Flint’s story out there and people are actually listening to it.”

By Savannah Swix

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MSU business-IT students help area companies on new tech projects

Posted on: September 21, 2016

East Lansing, Michigan – September 19, 2016 – Nearly 20 teams of Michigan State University undergraduate seniors are ready and waiting to help mid-Michigan businesses and nonprofits solve their digital problems. As part of their final course in their Information Technology minor, the students are required to work in cross-functional teams on a real-world IT (information technology) project. They just need a few more “clients.”

Professors Constantinos K. Coursaris and Wietske van Osch, who are teaching the course through MSU’s Department of Media and Information, say the students are capable of taking on a wide range of technology-related projects, because each team will comprise of students majoring in business, media and information, and computer science and engineering. A short list of recently completed and successful projects follows:

Websites and Web Content Management Systems
Student teams designed and implemented content management systems for clients such as the Lansing Old Town Business and Arts Development Association and TechTown, Detroit’s research and technology development park along the Woodward corridor.

Database and Workflow Systems
Student teams also help with “back end” office operations. For example, one team designed and implemented a new membership database for the Michigan Kiwanis Club using Microsoft Access and another team used Microsoft InfoPath to design and implement a workflow system for a petroleum distribution company.

Wireless Web Access
A student team created a prototype for the Oakland County Mobile Services system to format website information for smaller screens on mobile phones and PDAs.

Video Production
Students produced promotional videos and DVDs for clients ranging from St. Johns Public Schools to Walnut Hills Country Club.

Social Media
Students created a comprehensive social media strategy, initial presence and maintenance plan for Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub.

To submit a project for consideration, please contact Dr. Coursaris via email as soon as possible and no later than September 25, 2016, at

Professors Coursaris and Van Osch are now accepting proposals from area organizations (business, government or nonprofit) to have student teams take on projects for the fall 2016 academic semester, starting in September and ending on December 9. The ideal project is “hands-on,” with a well-defined outcome that can be achieved by three to four students in 8-10 weeks.

To submit a project for consideration, please contact Dr. Coursaris via email by September 25, 2016, at

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Online strategic communication degree empowers working professionals

Pretty woman is working in a café

Organizations seek out the abilities. Professionals strive for the knowledge and skills. And starting Spring 2017, the MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences will welcome its first class into a new online master’s program, convenient for working professionals, on strategic communications.

The Master of Arts in Strategic Communication represents the first time the College has offered a degree program 100 percent online. The program responds to the needs of professionals through its flexible delivery as well as through content that addresses the challenges of a 21st century communication environment.

"Given the rapidly changing communication ecosystem, mid-career professionals are eager for training to update their skills," says Prabu David, Dean of the College of ComArtSci. "Currently, communication professionals, including our own alumni, do not have rich, in-state options to learn new media techniques. This new online M.A. in strategic communication fills that gap."

Students in the nine-course, 30-credit program will examine how to leverage today's evolving media and digital mix into an integrated marketing and communications strategy for businesses, start-ups, non-profits or government agencies. Expert faculty will handle all aspects of course content and bring expertise in corporate messaging, news and information, fundamental communication processes, audience research and data analytics, and new technologies. Students will also complete a service-learning project that enables them to apply their newly acquired expertise within a community setting.

"The College of ComArtSci has long-standing leadership in an integrated theory-to-practice orientation toward effective communication strategy and tactics," says John Sherry, associate dean of for graduate studies in ComArtSci. "There is no other college in the world with such broad and deep coverage of these issues."

Students can complete courses and requirements from anywhere, anytime and at their own pace in one to three years. The program is ideally suited for working professionals with three to five years of experience in communications as well as for business and communication entrepreneurs. Students will also have opportunity to collaborate with other online learners, further enhancing their professional network.

"The ability for individuals to be located anywhere and enroll in this master's program is a distinct advantage," says ComArtSci Alum April M. Clobes, president and CEO of the MSU Federal Credit Union. "Being able to complete the program while working full-time is also essential for long-term success. MSU's high rankings in the field of communications along with excellent faculty, will make this a highly sought after degree."

The program is currently accepting applications and no GRE is required. To learn more about MSU's new online master's degree program in strategic communication through the College of ComArtSci, visit or contact the program director at

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'The Woz' at TCFF will showcase the future of gaming

Posted on: July 21, 2016

Michigan State University has partnered with the Traverse City Film Festival to facilitate and host its hands-on, interactive showcase called “The Woz.” MSU staff, students and volunteers will be on site to offer out-of-this-world and innovative virtual reality experiences and video games.

A unique addition to this year’s showcase is the new HTC Vive, a virtual reality head-mounted display that transforms gaming and film by placing you inside the game, giving you control of your surroundings and allowing you to interact with the story.

“The Woz” will be located at Hotel Indigo at 263 West Grandview Parkway in Traverse City. Stop by on July 27 to 30 from noon to 9 p.m. and July 31 from noon to 5 p.m.

HTC Vive


In this game, explore the depths of the ocean and the remains of a sunken ship while coming face-to-face with a variety of sea creatures, including an 80-foot whale.

Tilt Brush 

Test your artistic ability with Tilt Brush, a virtual reality painting program which allows you to create 3D, life-size art and be a part of your creation.

Job Simulator  

Find out what job best fits your skillset in this robotic world by living out a day as a mechanic, an office worker or even a short order cook.

Space Pirate Trainer 

Fulfill your childhood fantasies of becoming a space pirate and test your aim on the virtual targets.

Arizona Sunshine 

Jump into the zombie apocalypse in the Grand Canyon state and defend yourself against the living dead while searching for fellow survivors.

The Lab

Experience virtual reality in all forms: adopt a mechanical dog, make repairs to a robot, protect a castle using your archery skills and more.

Party Games

Rocket League and Live eSports Casting 

This game puts a twist on the average soccer game by replacing the athletes with rocket-powered cars. Use your rocket-engines to battle the opposing team and shoot the ball into their goal. Rocket League is taking eSports by storm, so stop by the casting booth and try calling a match!

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

It’s a race against time as you and your teammates help a trapped player to defuse a bomb. Only the player in the room with the bomb can see it. The rest of the players have the bomb defusal manual. It’s up to teamwork and communication to beat the clock!

Indie Games

That Dragon, Cancer 

That Dragon, Cancer offers a look into the real-life story of the Green family and their experience raising their son Joel, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer at twelve months old, but lived for four more years. The game is designed to make the player feel the emotions and experience the high and low moments of this time in the Green family’s life.  

Her Story 

This game gives the player access to fictional police interviews with a woman about her missing husband. The player has to search the database and review video clips in order to solve the case.

GameDev @ MSU

Several games designed and programmed by students and faculty from the Game Design and Development Program at Michigan State University will also be available at “The Woz”. Come meet the next generation of game developers and play the games that they’ve created!

Rogues Like Us 

Become a rogue, find your weapons and fight your way out of exile.


Rival treasure hunters team up to find and obtain a technological artifact called the Key. Players must fight their way through challenges in order to capture the Key.


In Debris Removal Operation (DROp), the player explores asteroid fields as a space pioneer while removing debris.  

Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab

Discover how games go beyond entertainment with the latest from the Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab.


Search for your missing baby dragon in this children’s adventure game developed in collaboration with Michigan State University Federal Credit Union to help kids learn about finances.

Kerem B’Yavneh 

Your favorite farming, city-building games meet the richness and vibrancy of Jewish ritual, history and thought.

Reach Higher 

In this game, play as your favorite Big Ten mascot: Sparty! Help him reach as many cotton tufts and roses as possible before the big game.

More Information

When you’re ready to exit virtual reality and step back into real life, check out the other opportunities that MSU has to offer at the Traverse City Film Festival! Don’t miss the documentary films produced by students or the work of festival interns from MSU. Learn more about what to expect at the MSU at TCFF website.

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Media & Info Professor Shelia Cotten awarded for Gerontology research, career achievement

Posted on: June 2, 2016

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Shelia Cotten, a professor in the Department of Media and Information, has received a lot of good news lately surrounding her research in Gerontology. Cotten was awarded Fellow status in The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) in addition to earning the American Sociological Association’s Communication, Information Technologies, and Media Sociology section (CITAMS) William F. Ogburn Career Achievement Award for her work in discovering how to help the elderly cross the digital divide and utilize technology to enhance their lives.

GSA, with over 500 Fellows, is the largest organization focused on studying older adults with a focus on trying to proactively improve their health and well-being.

“Most of the work I do is thinking about: How can we use technology to enhance people’s lives? Are there existing technologies that could be beneficial, or technologies that need to be modified or created that could enhance older adults lives?” Cotten said.  

Cotten and her research team have recently conducted focus groups with older adults around the state of Michigan. She looks at how older adults benefit from technology and what is most useful to them and their needs. Tablets are increasingly being used by this demographic, but some of these individuals still don’t see the device as the right fit for them.

“A lot of times older adults don’t want to use (tablets or other technologies) because they don’t see the relevance of them for their lives. If you can help them see the relevance then they’ll be more likely to learn to use the technology,” said Cotten. “Showing them how they can communicate and find information can be really powerful for them.”

The American Sociological Association's CITAMS William F. Ogburn Career Achievement Award is given to scholars with outstanding research that has contributed “to the advancement of knowledge in the area of sociology of communication, media, and/or information technology.”

Cotten, who has studied technology for nearly 20 years, said that the Career Achievement Award recognizes the larger body of her work with technology-use over the life course and, specifically, how we approach the idea of the digital divide.

“They’re both wonderful organizations and I feel very fortunate to be a part of both of those organizations,” said Cotten. “I hope I’m not done yet and have more to contribute to enhance people’s lives through the use of technology."

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