Leaders at video game publisher Electronic Arts believe young people of all backgrounds should be inspired to explore the possibilities they could pursue in the world of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics.
As part of that goal, EA had 57 students representing 22 different Central Florida high schools apply for this year’s “Get in the Game” STEAM Camp.
This year, Windermere High School rising junior Sarah Kirk was the only student from West Orange selected to participate in the program.
Kirk, 16, has been playing video games her whole life.
“It’s always something I’ve been interested in,” she said. “They’re just so much fun. … Since I’ve always been interested in video games and a lot of other technology-related subjects, I thought it would be a really great opportunity to expand on that knowledge and see if this is something I would have interest in doing as a career in the future.”
Kirk was born in southern California and moved to the Windermere area when she was 6 years old.
As a child, she loved to play Mario Kart. Her passion has since grown to include favorites such as Minecraft and Valorant.
When she heard about the program from school, she said she knew she had to apply.
Kirk submitted her application in April.
“I was so excited and felt really honored that I was selected,” she said. “I know a lot of people probably had a lot more experience than I did, so I’m really grateful to have had a chance to go to this program.”
GET IN THE GAME
EA officials are passionate about helping the next generation develop the necessary skills and knowledge to pursue and succeed in a future career in STEAM. They believes the STEAM skills gap is a key issue the EA social-impact team continues to address, with a focus on under-represented groups, given the gap is even wider for these populations.
In Florida, EA Orlando’s Get in the Game STEAM annual summer camp is held at the new EA studio in downtown Orlando’s Creative Village.
The program is designed for young women and non-binary students and equips participants with coding skills and real-world applications of STEAM.
The free, week-long program launched in 2018.
Since then, five past participants have secured internships with EA Orlando, and one recently started a full-time job with the company.
Although the camp had to rework its offerings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it successfully returned to in-person programming last summer.
This year, 16 students from Citrus, Orange and Seminole County public schools, as well as a private school in Apopka, were selected to participate in the camp.
Students were selected through an application process that considers coding experience, passion for video games, desire to pursue a career in technology and teacher recommendation.
Jocel Thornhill, director of operations and program management at EA Tiburon, said the program received a substantial increase in applications this year.
“(This) is a very promising sign that we’re making a difference,” Thornhill said. “We hope to continue building a more diverse talent pipeline through this program and our other community outreach initiatives that support careers in STEAM.”
This year, the program took place July 17 to 21.
The camp was led for the second year by Ron Weaver, technical design director at the University of Central Florida’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy.
Get in the Game hosted five days packed with computer-science lessons, hands-on problem solving and inspirational presentations.
Participants also enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at EA’s world-class technology and tools, and received mentorship from the software engineers and artists credited on iconic game franchises such as EA Sports Madden NFL and EA Sports PGA Tour.
As part of the program, students split into groups to work together to create their own video game to present to an audience that includes EA employees, family members, teachers and community leaders on the final day of the camp.
Kirk said although she enjoyed the entirety of the program, her favorite part of the week was working on the game.
Kirk’s team created a platformer game similar to the game she grew up playing: Mario.
“It was really cool getting to work with a group of different people and learning how to create a game and then applying that knowledge into our own game,” she said.
However, working as a team was also one of the hardest parts. Kirk said she is used to typically working individually, and collaborating was a new undertaking for her.
Graduates of the program also returned on July 20 for “Get in the Game Alumnae Day,” which included programming on professional development topics, such as building a résumé, finding a mentor, job shadowing and securing an internship.
After attending the camp, Kirk now is thinking about pursuing a professional career in the video game industry even more.
“I’ve been able to see how many different sides there are to video games,” she said. “You don’t have to just be a programmer. You can design video games or you can work on the art, and I think I’ve found myself more interested in those types of careers.”
The program is offered every summer, and applications typically open in the spring.
When she is not playing video games, Kirk can be found at drama club at her school working on the production and technology side, participating in book club, listening to music, or hanging out with her friends.