High score for video game programs


Colin King

Information Courtesy successfulstudent.org

By Campus Reporter

Columbia is receiving recognition as one of the best game design and game programming colleges in the country. 

Successful Student, a website that provides college rankings and other higher education information, ranked Columbia No. 13 on its list of “27 Best Video Game Colleges 2015,” putting the college above well-respected institutions such as New York University, Cornell University and Michigan State University.

Tom Dowd, associate chair of the Interactive Arts & Media Department, said it feels good for the department to be recognized for its hard work. The college was ranked because it has a quality program that impresses game industry professionals, he added.

“Nobody is doing things on the scale that we’re doing them here,” Dowd said.

Dowd said the college’s approach to its curriculum also sets it apart from other programs. The Interactive Arts & Media Department offers a major in game design, which has concentrations in game development, game art and game sound design, and a major in game programming, which teaches students the technology behind developing video games.

Robin Bargar, dean of the School of Media Arts, said designers and programmers at other colleges are often split up into different departments and not many are able to put the two majors in a collaborative environment like Columbia does, which is important for the students’ creative process.

“When you collaborate, you have to have a shared language so you can get to your goal,” Bargar said. “By having the programmers and the game designers study in the same program and the same classes, they develop a shared language even though their special areas of talent are different.”

Bargar said being on this list is not only good for attracting new students, but also for creating stronger relationships with alumni.

“When a program goes up in the rankings, it means that [for] students and graduates, their degree gets more valuable,” Bargar said.

Associate Dean of the School of Media Arts Mirella Shannon said there were 339 students enrolled in the Interactive Arts & Media Department as of Feb. 2 registration, a majority of whom are in the game programs. The department, Bargar said, has one of the highest retention rates of returning students each semester.

In addition to being placed on these kinds of lists, Dowd said the department’s ability to attract students has resulted in more support from the administration in the last few years.

“The department has continued to grow even when registration has [declined] across the college, but our numbers are up,” Dowd said. “We’re even up again this spring, which is remarkable, and the administration knows it.” 

Aaron Ayala, a freshman game design major, said he decided to attend Columbia after hearing about the program from a friend. He said he enjoys the professors because the majority of them have worked in the video game industry and are able to provide firsthand experience and advice.

“[My professors tell me to] work hard, stay here, study, do well [and] when you come out, have a portfolio,” Ayala said. “Do whatever work you can possibly do and show that you’re active in your field.”

Kristen Sambo, a junior game design major, said lists like the one Student Successful published helped her make a decision when searching for colleges with game programs. Sambo said she eventually chose Columbia because she liked the environment and it had exactly what she wanted in a major. 

“[Those lists] did narrow it down because some of the [colleges] didn’t seem as good or it wasn’t going toward where I wanted to go,” she said.

Ayala said the only thing he hopes the department will improve upon in the future is creating more hands-on and fewer conceptual classes for freshmen so students can begin working in their major sooner.

The list accumulated information about each institution but was meant to look at the programs from the student perspective, according to Successful Student editor

Jake Akins.

“It’s all considered from the student’s point of view,” Akins said about the list in a Feb. 4 emailed statement “A few key factors with Columbia is the [Interactive Arts & Media] program and the fact that graduates have been employed at Dreamation, Jellyvision, Red Eye Studio, WMS Industries Inc. and Liquid Generation. The lists are formed by doing research on the schools and their programs that are being considered.”

While being placed among Ivy League colleges and other large institutions is a great honor, Dowd said the department is always looking for ways to improve, including recruiting more faculty members and creating stand-alone majors for each concentration.

“We are certainly in good company,” Dowd said. “It’s a good position to be in, but we’re going to continue doing what we’re doing [within the department].”succ