Visiting Girl Scouts Earn their Entertainment Technology Badge with help from MSU

Saturday, February 22, 2014, Michigan State University's Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, & Media held a one-day event for Girl Scouts to come and experience what it is like to be a game designer and produce a live television show. Event activities were focused on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) learning and appreciation for technology and media.

MSU instructor and owner of the independent game company Triquetra Games, Patrick Shaw, led the Girl Scouts through guided activities in robotics, computing, animation, and discussed the many different areas of focus within the game development field. Particularly, Patrick Shaw had Girl Scouts help design the company's next project, .Bot ("dot-bot"), where players collaborate and build robots in this strategic robot life simulation social PC game in order to explore ancient civilizations, discover new technology, and build more fantastic robots. The prototyping activities and game are creative, story-driven and engineer-focused--aimed at inspiring young people to pursue technology careers of the future.

girlscouts1girlscouts2Of the many reasons Shaw is creating .Bot and committed to community outreach, he says, "one of our greatest responsibilities today is preparing the next generation for the challenges of tomorrow. The jobs of the future will require innovation, collaboration, and most importantly, a passion for the STEM disciplines."

Sadly though, there has been a steep decline of students pursuing STEM disciplines, and women have been historically unrepresented within STEM careers. According the U.S. Department of Labor, only 22.5% of all programmers in the United States are women. Research has shown that young women begin to lose interest in STEM subjects beginning in late elementary and early middle school (ages 9 - 13). This lack of interest continues through high school and college. Without a passion for STEM, women are missing out on important opportunities of the future.

To help address and combat this problem, MSU last year created an all-female focused pre-college program Miss Media Michigan, Girls Tech Camp. The program represents Michigan State University's commitment to invest, encourage and empower young women to pursue technology fields and become original media content creators and advocates. Females participate in immersive project-based learning activities that expose them to game development, webs design, app development, 3D modeling, and filmmaking using a variety of platforms. All of the department's outreach programs are designed to educate, inspire and equip participants with the skills, resources and relationships needed to be successful in creative technology and media fields, while engaging students at the university and encouraging a college-going culture.

Games are specifically an incredible catalyst and resource for engaging and maintaining interest in STEM subjects. As a veteran producer and game designer, Shaw adds, "we believe that games are key to overcoming the issue of STEM interest drop-off. Playing games require many skills from the STEM disciplines. For example, a player may want her hero to jump over obstacles. To implement this seemingly simple feature in a game requires logic, physics, programming, and technical knowledge of the gaming device. Play can inspire values and engagement in STEM. We feel that a game is the right avenue for bringing young women into STEM."

Visiting Girl Scouts played the game that put them in the role of a game producer, providing real design feedback as a play-tester, and constructed their own .Bot, the game's main "fungineering" component, to take home. Assisting at the event was MSU graduate alumni of the department's master's program in Human Computer Interaction and Serious Game Design specialization, Carrie Cole.

Cole is a game designer for Filament Games and works with Patrick Shaw on .Bots. Cole discussed challenges and opportunities for young women entering STEM careers, including games, and served as the day's female activity mentor. Providing one-on-one help to students, she guided the Girl Scouts through each activity exposing students to the roles of programmer, designer and artist in the day's computing, animation and prototyping activities.

The Girl Scouts switched gears in the afternoon and worked with MSU instructor, and TV and film Director and Producer Lisa Whiting Dobson. Whiting Dobson's years of experience running successful television programs was a treat for the Girl Scouts, many of whom have never been in a TV studio before, let alone operate professional equipment.

By the end of the day's activities, the Girl Scouts were running through one of Whiting Dobson's first college assignments where students simulate a live television broadcast, reacting to fast-paced instructions from the director who help the girls handle their roles of camera operator, switch board operator, announcer, and on-air personalities. Whiting Dobson is also an arts manager, choreographer and dance instructor, experienced and committed to volunteerism and youth-focused outreach. She expertly helped the Girl Scouts' navigate their first experience behind (and on) the camera in less than two hours, illustrating that the field of TV production is not just about managing technology, but an art and an exercise in teamwork.

Outreach Specialist, Amanda Krueger, who organized the event for Girl Scouts closed the day's events with a discussion about pre-college and college opportunities for the attendees interested in STEM and careers in media and technology. Krueger is MSU Media Summer Camps Director, and oversees more than 14 on-campus programs that introduce students to fields in media and technology, and MSU's campus community. She says, "Computing, creative story-telling, and meaningful play are the core pillars of our curriculum. MSU offers a diverse range of pre-college programming options for middle school to high school age students that inspire them to dream and create media and technology to improve our world."

Learn more about MSU's media and technology pre-college programs by visiting tism.msu.edu/camps. The Department welcomes collaborations with other schools and groups as well. Contact mediacamps@msu.edu to discuss potential visits and workshop arrangements.

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