ESU Professors Prepare At-Risk Youth For STEM Careers Through Esports

Photo Credit / University Relations Dr. Jason Engerman (left) and Dr. Richard Otto (right) are member's of ESU's Digital Media Technologies Department.

Lauren Hernandez

Staff Writer

Dr. Richard Otto and Dr. Jason Engerman from the Digital Media Technologies department have received a $399,853 grant to fund their ESportsU Foundation project. This project helps students labeled “at-risk” a chance to explore the art of digital media.   

“For me, over my years as an educator, I have been inspired by students in so many ways,” said Dr. Otto. “I have been especially moved by students who face great challenges in life, family, medical, financial, and other hardships, and yet have the strength to keep going, to achieve their dreams.”

According to Dr. Engerman, the “at-risk youth” include those in foster care, out of a home and community placement and juvenile delinquents.

Otto and Engerman have planned to create summer camps for their target demographic, 16-19-year-old kids with higher chances of falling victim to delinquent tendencies.

They chose ESports because teenagers tend to spend their time playing video games, which can lead to a STEM-related career.

Research is still in the early stages, but Dr. Engerman has found that according to PEW Research studies, 97 percent of adolescents are playing video games.

The Entertainment Software Association states that over 70 percent of people are playing video games daily. Even though at-risk and low-income student usually lacks advanced gaming systems, they typically have smartphones and consoles like PlayStation and Xbox.

Dr. Kevin Clark and Dr. Aroutis Foster, team members of ESportsU, found that just having the opportunity to have a career in STEM increases not only awareness but also interest.

“Games based learning research shows that gaming environments are inherently good at increasing motivations, interest and confidence, ” said Dr. Engerman. “ ESports provides the digital, social and competitive elements that we believe can be a prime learning environment for STEM development for emerging digital global economies.”

As for the camp, Dr. Otto and Dr. Engerman plan to have morning meetings and information sessions, as well as afternoon practices. Dr. Engerman is well versed in coaching students, so they expect to have accurate training sessions. They want to create a “unique living-learning community.”

University tours, nature walks, and work out sessions are also to be included.

Those that attend the camp will have the opportunity to bond with professional ESports players.

Attendees will train in fields such as digital media production, video production, editing, strategic planning and training, and competitive gaming. Winners will receive professional gear as a prize.

Although the project is called ESportsU, video games are not the only activity being offered, just the basics.

Telecommunication, streaming applications, advanced computing software, social media tools, data analytics services, video conferencing, and television studio production angles will also be explored.

“[The youth will] utilize the advanced production equipment we have in DMET such as 4K video cameras, the newly updated 4K McGarry TV studio with expanded green screen capabilities, and all the technology needed to produce the creative media of the 21st century,” Dr. Engerman said. “These are all digital creative tools of emerging digital markets that are simultaneously critical components of successful Esports activities.”

Dr. Engerman and Dr. Otto have two main goals for the students: motivation and preparedness to pursue STEM careers.

They want to figure out what factors and key experiences effectively promote awareness of STEM careers, motivation to pursue a STEM career, and persistence in undertaking education pathways to those careers in underrepresented populations.

They also want to create a learning model that promotes collaborative knowledge sharing behaviors between upper-class high school participants, STEM experts, and ESports industry professionals.

ESportsU is a project that will combine academics and ESU support systems starting with a camp-like experience, then to a high school transitional program, and then to ESU and STEM careers.

Eventually, Dr. Engerman and Dr. Otto hope their research will branch out to people across the country, motivating them to start their own projects like ESportsU.

“If it is shown that what we are doing is of value to this subset of young people,” said Dr. Otto, “we will look to see if other groups would find this program to be of value.”

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