AIAS President Joseph Olin: Get The Inside Word On How To Earn Their Scholarship

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Posted April 3, 2009 - By Stephen Johnson

Joseph Olin

Earlier this week, TheFeed brought you the news that the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences was accepting applications for the Randy Pausch Scholarship Fund, an academic scholarship for students who want to pursue a career in games and interactive entertainment. Four applicants are award a $2,500 scholarship each year. Recently, I spoke to the AIAS's president Joseph Olin to get the inside word on what kind of students the AIAS is looking for.

G4: Why did you choose The Last Lecture author Randy Pausch to honor with this scholarship? 

Joseph Olin: We chose Randy Pausch because of his career choice of interactive entertainment. He spent his life looking for new ways to apply technology to empower people and drew upon his own experiences to challenge his students and his colleagues to reach for the stars. 

I challenged the Academy’s board to put something together for the next generation of gamers. Originally we were going to call this "The Academy Scholarship," but Bing Gordon, who was the chief creative officer of Electronic Arts, suggested we do something to honor an individual. He suggested Randy, and we thought that was a brilliant idea. When you watch The Last Lecture and subsequent book and all the other adaptations, it is inspirational. When you go through college today, you have these fits where you start questioning, "Why did I sign up for accounting? It isn’t really what I want to do." You need to have the courage to follow a dream and then make a decision. I think Randy’s words are great in that regard. We were looking for a way to promote and legitimize game development, game creation and interactive entertainment as real career choices, and to try and offset some of the burden of going to universities today.

G4: This is the second year that you've been offering the scholarship. How many applicants did you get last year?

JO: Last year, we had just under 100.

G4: That’s pretty good odds for a scholarship!

JO: All things considered, it is. It’s one in 25. I think part of the challenge that we learned is that there are no shortage of ways to promote scholarship activities, and we’ve tried to do that this year in terms of FastWeb process. Your readers who are in college are probably familiar with FastWeb, and the scholarship is posted there. And we’ve sent out notification to those universities that have game development programs to make sure they add this to the opportunities in the financial aid office.

G4: Are you expecting more applicants this year?

JO: I think we’re going to get more applicants this year. Don’t ask me how many more. I have no idea! All of the applications are read, because we ask students to spend some time. Above and beyond letters of recommendation, it’s to give us an essay on why they want to pursue this and what they hope to accomplish. That’s one of the ways that we start to winnow out perspective students to honor.

G4: What can a person do to stand out from other applicants?

JO: I think there’s an ability to articulate why you want to do something. So "the reason I want to pursue interactive entertainment is because…" fill in the blank here.  We’ve seen all sorts of examples why people are choosing this type of career. One of last year’s students decided that they weren’t interested in game development per se, but wanted to change the way museums present information, and to draw upon the ways we interface and engage people in games, in a museum setting. We think that’s great. There’s more to interactive entertainment than just game creation. We talk about cause-related or serious games. Or just pure education. All of those are legitimate pursuits that we respect. From the Academies’ scholarship committee, it’s just articulate in your best words why you want to do something.

G4: How about if someone just has a great idea for a zombie game or something less traditionally academic?

JO: If someone can articulate that they have a story within them and want to learn a craft to bring that story to a wider audience, that’s a really good path. Over the last five years, the production changes of today’s AAA titles have seen production teams grow from 25 or 30 to up to the hundreds with all the art being done. There’s been a lot of people who have entered the space, but they aren’t necessarily passionate about making games. They may be passionate about art or animation, but I think that the Academy’s perspective is we’re looking for people who are passionate about games and interactive entertainment and want to take part in it.

It’s one thing to say, “Gee, I want to go into this field because I can get a job in it.” That’s not what we’re looking for. I don’t think a development studio is looking for that either. They’re looking for people who are passionate about being part of a team or part of the process of creating something. And I think that’s an important thing.  We tell our interns and part-time college students who staff the Academy that when you go out looking for a job, you really want to convey your passion for what you want to do.

G4: What were some of the other awarded applicants' ideas?

One of the students was interested in doing portable technology in terms of a game engine. The other was just very passionate about how educational games could be, even though they were entertainment. The last one thought games were a great way to bring people together as opposed to the way they are traditionally thought of: That is, you fighting aliens, as opposed to you and your friends playing together. She was reflecting on the nascent Wii and just her own experience in her college playing with friends. That was an important sentiment. 

G4: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us! 

Here's where you can get more info on The Academy and the Randy Pausch scholarship. If you do decide to apply, let me know in the comment section: I'd be super proud if I helped anyone get into gaming professionally.

Tags: Videogames
AIAS President Joseph Olin: Get The Inside Word On How To Earn Their Scholarship


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