When Madeline Murch headed off for summer camp in late July, she had high expectations.
After all, the Sunlake High student was one of just 15 young women selected to take part in a summer program presented by Electronic Arts Inc., a global interactive entertainment company.
“Going into the experience, I had really high hopes for it,” said Murch, one of 57 applicants for the program. “It was just everything I hoped for, and more.”
The young woman from Land O’ Lakes said she’s been interested in computers and gaming from a young age, and both her mom and her uncle know how to code.
She learned about EA’s “Get in the Game” summer camp from her computer science teacher, Lea Weber, who sent the link to her.
Madeline decided to apply for the week-long camp that took place at the EA Tiburon studio, in Maitland.
Since the campus doesn’t have housing, it wasn’t clear if Madeline would be able to go.
But, her mom, Renee, stepped up — taking her to the camp. They stayed in an area hotel.
“I just really thought it was a great opportunity that we couldn’t pass up,” Renee said. “It seemed like she’s always had an affinity for coding and gaming. I thought if she saw what went on at the studio, she might really like it and want to pursue that.”
Besides, Renee added, “they’re (EA) leaders in video game development. So, there’s no better place to start than there.”
EA, based in California, is a global leader in digital interactive entertainment. The company develops and delivers games, content and online services for Internet-connected consoles, mobile devices and personal computers. It has more 300 million registered players around the world.
Madeline said a typical day at “Get in the Game” camp would include presentations and hands-on work.
The presentations were interesting and informative, she said.
“They were all on totally different topics, which was cool. We got to see every single aspect of the video games,” the 16-year-old said.
“During the second half of the day, we actually were working on developing a game while we were there. So, we broke into small groups, and we had a couple of software engineers who would help us every day.
“Some days, we did more interactive things,” she said.
For example, Madeline said she saw technology used to make realistic 3D renderings of people’s faces.
“We got to play around with some of their motion capture technology,” she added.
And, one of the artists they met, who gave a presentation on story-telling, had actually worked at Pixar and Disney Animation, she said.
The week was enjoyable and inspiring, Madeline said. “I definitely think that I want to continue learning how to code, and I want to pick up another coding language.
“I think that after this week at EA, I’d like to maybe be a software engineer,” she added.
Reducing the gender gap
Encouraging more young women to consider careers in the technology sector is precisely the point of the week-long summer camp, according to Daryl Holt, vice president and group chief operating officer of EA SPORTS Worldwide Studios.
Holt came up with the idea for the camp, which began last year with 10 participants and expanded this year to 15 young women.
Madeline was the only participant from Pasco County.
Holt explained the motivation for creating the camp.
“We were seeing a lack of gender diversity in those fields. That’s no secret,” he said.
“We’ve got to solve the supply problem,” he said.
The tech sector can’t rely on going into elementary and middle schools and giving a talk that might light a flame — to inspire young girls to pursue careers in these fields, he said.
“We’re not trying to ignite a spark, we’re trying to fan a flame,” Holt said.
The program was designed for “young women who already had some exposure to coding,” he said.
Applicants had to submit a teacher recommendation and an essay, explaining why they were interested in the camp.
The essays played a big role in the selection process, he said.
For instance, an essay writer might say something like: “I’m truly interested in this, and one of the things holding me back is that I don’t have access to a computer. I have to go to the library to do it (coding),” he said.
Holt’s reaction? “Wow, here’s someone that is taking the extra step to do what they are passionate about and the way they’re having to do go about doing it, is certainly a demonstration of their dedication to it.
“Not only can we fan that flame, we might be able to make it easier for them.”
The camp aims to educate, entertain and energize the young women, Holt said.
“Whether it’s at EA, or some other technology-based company, we want them to go on and do great things,” he said. “We want them to plan and we want them to train, but we also want them to dream and believe — because that combination is what will truly take them to the next level,” Holt said.
While at the camp, the young women work with mentors and they’re invited to stay in touch with them after they leave.
They also can earn the right to interview for an internship, and they get to take the laptop they’ve been working on home with them, Holt said.
“Our expectation is that they have it in their power to do this, to follow their dreams in an educational pursuit. And then, we’ll be talking to them later about an internship that hopefully leads to a career,” Holt said.
Computer and video game industry facts
- 90% of parents pay attention to the game their child plays
- 75% of Americans have at least one gamer in their household
- 63% of gamers play with others
- 56% of gamers have a creative hobby (singing, writing, etc.)
- 32% of gamers play a musical instrument
Source: The Entertainment Software Association
Published August 28, 2019