SALT LAKE CITY — The video gaming industry grows each year at a rate of about 3 to 5 percent. Despite the industry’s consistent growth and evolution, gender diversity remains a key issue in game design and creation.
Although many tech fields have this same problem, current crises like Gamergate and the general sense of exclusion women feel in the gaming sphere make the gaming industry a sector that could particularly stand to benefit from a stronger female influence.
One of Utah’s own local universities with an esteemed reputation in the gaming industry has recognized the need to get more female minds behind the creation of video games and is implementing workshops, recruitment tactics and funding programs to do their part in solving the problem.
The University of Utah has one of the leading video game design programs in the nation. The Entertainment and Arts Engineering program at Utah was ranked No. 1 for its undergraduate program and No. 3 in the nation for its graduate program by the Princeton Review in 2016.
The school works with industry leaders like Unity Technologies to provide additional certifications that will help their students find success after graduation. One of the many things that make this program exceptionally successful is their constant quest for diversity.
“(Women) bring a compassionate, humanitarian attitude to games that applies this technology to do good,” said Richard Brown, dean of the University of Utah’s College of Engineering. “Historically, the low number of women in engineering has been a deterrent to young women coming into the field. This is why it is important for us to have women faculty so that there are role models for them. As the number of women students has increased, they have peers as a support group.”
Getting more women in engineering programs begins with helping more high schoolers realize their potential for success in the field. This is why the University of Utah’s College of Engineering offers young women the chance to develop their engineering skills on campus before they graduate high school. The Hi-GEAR Camp was designed to “expose young women to a variety of engineering and computer science careers with hands-on experiential learning and collaborative team projects.”
In past years, the camp has included activities like racing robots, extracting DNA and building trebuchets to launch water balloons. The camp also pairs each camp member up with a mentor to help them get the most out of their experience and offers all participants a chance to win scholarships to study in the U’s engineering program after they graduate.
Registration is currently open for this year’s camp, which will take place June 12 to 16.
The school has also developed a high school engineering course that is a major part of its outreach to young women in high school, according to Brown.
“The instructor is Stacy Firth, one of our own alumni, who has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin," Brown said. "This course gives students both knowledge and personal, hands-on experience with engineering topics, and breaks down the barriers.”
“The course was developed at Olympus High and has now been rolled out to all of the Granite School District and to a number of other high schools in the state. We will make Stacy’s pre-recorded lectures available to any school that wants to start a course,” he said.
Another way the school works to help more women get involved in its engineering programs is by creating a dedicated department for recruiting and retaining women who are skilled in the engineering field.
The Women In Engineering program seeks to retain and recruit more women within the College of Engineering at the University of Utah by working with aspiring female engineers in all seven engineering departments. Its goal in working with these women is to create a gender-inclusive study climate and enhance overall activities and opportunities for women within engineering programs.
Securing sufficient funding is another critical component in the process of encouraging women to join the game engineering field. This is why the University of Utah has teamed up with outside companies to provide diverse scholarships for women in the entertainment and arts engineering program.
The Disney Interactive Scholarship for Outstanding Women in the Entertainment and Arts is one of these. This scholarship offers students admitted into the master’s program a chance to earn a financial award of $10,000 for four semesters in the program.
Another scholarship for women in the masters program is the Intel Scholarship for Outstanding Women in the Entertainment Arts and Engineering program. This scholarship offers another opportunity for students who have been admitted to the master’s program to earn $10,000 toward their schooling.
The University of Utah chapter for the Society of Women Engineers is another important on-campus resource for female engineers. The mission of this group is to “pursue the advancement of women in careers of engineering, science, and technology.”
Leaders of the society work to accomplish this goal by providing members with resources to find internship opportunities, research experiences, soft skill practice courses, and volunteer opportunities that can help them progress in their studies and future careers.
The society’s University of Utah chapter also hosts events like “Evening with Industry” and the “Society of Women Engineers Leadership Institute” to give members the opportunity to meet with industry leaders and hone in on leadership skills that will give them a competitive edge as they enter the workforce.
Although a complete solution for getting more women involved in video game engineering has yet to be found, the University of Utah is one of the many schools across the nation working to bring more women into the field by facilitating their journey through higher education.
“Since I came to the U. in 2004, the fraction of women in our freshman class has gone from 11 to 25 percent," Brown said.
According to Brown, many factors have contributed to this increase in women entering the school’s engineering program, and the efforts made to support women in engineering are likely playing a major role here. Efforts like these are what contribute to the school’s outstanding performance in the national industry for entertainment and art engineering education.