Berkeley City College Introduces High School Students to Careers in Game Design

May 13, 2015

Mary Clarke-Miller, the Game Design instructor and a couple of her students went over the details of their projects. Two of her students came to class to work on programming. Their characters were already designed, they had written their scripts, and were now resolving the kinks that kept their games from working smoothly.

One of the students mentioned she was up all night, resolving the problems in her game. Her name is Donna Gong. She is a Bay Area native and she decided to enroll at Berkeley City College because of its multi-media department. Donna had drawn ever since she was a kid and later discovered an interest in animation and video games. “I decided I should just make my own video games since I’m already doing all of the components of the process.” When asked about her process and the things she’s learned through the program, she said “It’s a lot harder than you think because even if you do have your assets, your programing, it’s really hard to make it work. You need to know a little bit of everything. If you’re working individually, it’s three times as difficult,” Donna said.

A few minutes later, a group of students from Oakland International High School walked into the room and Mary Clarke-Miller prepared for a ten-minute lecture. Once the high school students settled in, she showed them a short video. The students watched an animated figure dancing along to Scottish bagpipes. Clarke-Miller said, “You too can do something like this.” She asked them to open the Maya program on their computers. She explained that Maya is a software program used by Pixar and other animation studios. “We’re going to teach you how to make your own 3D model. The thing about 3D animation and game design is that it is applied Math. It’s the art of Math, so you can think about Math in a positive way,” she said.

The high school students created shapes on their desktop. Some of the shapes looked like apples and others look like vases. They poked fun at each other’s models in a mixture of Spanish and English. Dan Stone, their High School teacher explained that these students were there on a field trip. The class was part of an advisory program. “We incorporate stuff about career readiness,” he said. The students at Oakland International High School ranged from fluent English-speakers to early language-learners. “We have kids who have upper middle school reading levels, maybe early High School. And then we have kids who just came from Guatemala and El Salvador and can’t really read. The whole model is based on heterogeneous groups and the idea that no matter how much I can teach a kid who just came into the country, a kid who came here two years ago will be able to teach more,” Stone says.

These High School students were visiting different classrooms to learn of the career options available to them, and to become more familiar with the recourses at Berkeley City College. “You need an X amount of time to attain a functional English level, say five years at least, to become ready for a four-year college,” Stone said. “We have some kids that have been here since the 7th grade, and their English level is really high. They might be able to go to a four-year college, but most kids have only had one to three years (of English instruction) at this point, so a Community College is much more of a likely option.”

At the end of the crash course, Mary Clarke-Miller talked about how some of these high school students may or may not end up in her class, “We try to introduce them to different areas, and some of them will gravitate towards it and others will not. It’s not for everybody, but it does make them go ‘Oh! You mean I can do that?’ That’s what we’re trying to do with the CPT and Linked Learning and all of that, is to show them that it’s not unattainable. If it’s something that you’re interested in, it’s there. You can actually reach out and touch it.”

story by: Liz Mayorga
photographs by: Eli Zaturanski