The Greater Irvine Chamber celebrated Irvine’s world-class education at the Hilton Irvine on Oct. 13, 2021 at an awards ceremony for its inaugural Distinguished Educators program. The program recognizes exemplary educators as well as outstanding STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) programs, and the Distinguished Educator Award for Technology was presented to UCI’s game design and interactive media (GDIM) undergraduate degree program. Informatics Professor Constance Steinkuehler, the GDIM program chair, accepted the award on behalf of UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS).
“The GDIM faculty are honored to be recognized in this way,” says Steinkuehler. “We’re excited about the new program, our incoming students, the return to campus, and building strong partnership with the incredible game and interactive media companies right here in our local community.”
So how is the GDIM major, only in its first quarter on campus, already an award-winning program?
Although new for fall 2021, with 86 students enrolled in the program, GDIM stems from UCI’s computer game science (CGS) degree — first launched back in 2011. By 2017, College Magazine had named UCI the No. 1 school for gamers. However, a few years later, as the CGS degree entered its second decade on campus, the Department of Informatics decided it was time for an upgrade.
“The game development field is really fast moving,” says Informatics Professor Katie Salen Tekinbaş, a fellow of the Higher Education Video Game Alliance who helped revamp the CGS major. “The field just looks really different today from how it looked when the degree was originally developed.”
The revised and renamed B.S. degree offering prepares students to be the next generation of designers, developers and industry leaders by providing them with the tools and training needed to reshape the field with innovative and inclusive games and other playable media experiences. “The original computer game science program provides students a strong foundation in game programming, and we’ll continue to support this line of course work,” says Steinkuehler, noting the 223 CGS students on campus. “What the new degree does is expand our focus from programming alone to a broader set of key roles in the industry, including game design, games and product management,” she explains. “Students are now supported in developing a strong portfolio of work to quickly land a job and in developing the collaborative professional skills necessary to thrive after being hired.”
To ensure students are industry-ready prior to graduation, the GDIM program is leveraging its location. “The great thing about being in the center of Silicon Beach is that we are surrounded by so many outstanding game companies,” says Steinkuehler. Industry experts are serving as GDIM instructors, as guest lecturers and as project mentors for the capstone course. “Games is a fast-moving field, where engines, platforms and what’s considered state of the art changes every year, so we supplement our faculty expertise with industry professionals to ensure students graduate well prepared to succeed.”
Another great thing about being at UCI is the university itself. “We’re on a campus that has a strong reputation for inclusive excellence and for supporting its students by ensuring that campus is an equitable and welcoming space,” says Steinkuehler. “You put this high-tech sector degree together with a culture known for inclusive excellence, and what you get is a program that promises to help diversify the games industry pipeline and prepare the next generation of designers for creating interactive media in powerful, playful, responsible ways.”
— Shani Murray