Colleges and universities have become more and more welcoming of esports and gaming on campus in recent years. Many schools have opened esports training rooms and arenas in recent years. Nerd Street’s opening of a Localhost gaming venue at Rowan University earlier this year is a prime example of a university’s embrace of esports.
Providing a space to play games on campus is about more than just catering to a school’s esports teams though. Many schools see esports and gaming as a way to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.
NBC10 Philadelphia visited Camden County College this spring to see why the school recently opened an esports training room. According to an associate dean at the college, the games can help prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, including audio production, esports production, esports event management and even cybersecurity.
His comments echoed some made by Rowan University president Ali Houshmand at the opening of Nerd Street’s Localhost at Rowan. According to a release from Rowan, “President Ali Houshmand said the facility provides an infrastructure for online gaming that’s immensely popular with students but, perhaps more importantly, a platform to educate them for careers in highly technical, computer-based fields, including networked applications in transportation, agriculture, even the military.”
In fact, Rowan offers esports-focused courses and offers a certificate in Esports Industry & Entertainment Experience (EIEX). Localhost at Rowan will serve not only as a place for Rowan’s esports teams to practice and play but also as classroom space.
A UIF coding camp took place at Localhost in Philly this summer. Photo credit: UIF
Nerd Street’s own Localhost in Philadelphia served as a classroom this summer for the Uncommon Individual Foundation (UIF) who were back in the building for a coding camp. Introduction to Python was an intense three-week summer workshop geared toward local Philly high school students who were interested in pursuing careers in computer science and technology.
Localhost in Philly also was the site of a panel discussion on STEM careers earlier this year. Educators and politicians came together to discuss the topic.
Pennsylvania House Rep. Danilo Burgos, in an online release, said “One of the most exciting aspects about esports, for me as a legislator and Latino, is its potential for an equitable solution to our strikingly low number of Black and Hispanic workers in STEM-related careers. Esports attract a diverse group of students, regardless of race or gender, and it has proven itself as a gateway into encouraging young people to pursue STEM education as well as STEM-related careers.”
Late last year, an AP story shined a spotlight on how esports is increasingly being seen as a way to boost diversity in STEM careers. The AP cited a 2015 Pew study that found that Black teens are slightly more likely than their white peers to play video games, but Black people account for only 9% of STEM employees in the U.S.
The AP looked at a new program at DePaul University in Chicago where students of color accounted for nine out of 10 freshman recipients of an esports scholarship meant to develop practical skills for the video game industry.
For that same story, the AP interviewed Kevin Fair, founder of I Play Games!, a Chicago-based business that exposes young people of color to the video game industry. The AP cited Fair as saying, “skills that gamers develop naturally help prime them for their pick of careers in IT, coding, statistics, software engineering and more.”
Providing a pathway toward STEM careers via esports was a topic of discussion at ISTELive 23. ISTELive was a tech-focused education conference held in Philadelphia this summer. According to EdTech, in a session titled “Kickstart Esports: Learn from the Best!” panelists Chris Aviles, esports coordinator for Monmouth Beach School District and founder of Garden State Esports, and Julian Fitzgerald, executive director of Cxmmunity, encouraged schools to bring esports into the classroom.
“We realized that a consistent infrastructure for gaming and esports at the collegiate and the K–12 levels did not exist,” Fitzgerald said, according to EdTech. “In 2020, under-resourced and underserved communities were already six years behind the esports STEM gap.”
EdTech has produced multiple stories in recent years highlighting how esports can provide pathways toward STEM careers. Last April, EdTech highlighted how Full Sail University has been using esports to launch careers.
“There’s a direct connection between what esports programs provide and STEM education,” Sari Kitelyn, director of esports and project development at Full Sail, told EdTech. “Esports is a really good introduction into having more STEM education and STEM programming within facilities.”
“The Full Sail University Orlando Health Fortress is much more than just an esports arena,” Bennett Newsome, esports strategist at Full Sail, told EdTech. “It’s a classroom. Students are coming in there to work through their programs that they’re going to school for. Whether that’s film, production or something else, there’s a lot of ways that we’ve incorporated the educational aspect into a space like that.”
Last October, EdTech investigated how schools are using gaming to bridge the STEM divide for Black students.
“Game-based learning is different,” Nadine Ebri, a specialist with the technology innovation department for Duval County (Florida) Public Schools who runs the Minecraft lab for the district, told EdTech. “It really stretches the brain and helps students develop skills like problem-solving and computational thinking.”
According to EdTech, there are lessons conducted within Minecraft, including Next Generation Science Standards-aligned math, science and coding (both block-based and Python).
With the esports industry becoming more of a mainstream topic of conversation in recent years, the education industry has looked toward gaming as a way to introduce more students to STEM education and careers. School districts and universities across the country have found this to be a particularly effective way to bridge the STEM education gap for students of color. These trends of educators turning toward esports and gaming to lead more students down STEM pathways will likely continue to increase in the coming years.
Lead photo credit: Nerd Street