Category: Profiles

Women’s History Month: Female Space Pioneers

Female Space Astronauts, Cosmonauts, and Mathematicians

As we continue through Women’s History Month, we take a look back at some female space pioneers. The women served in all kinds of roles from helping build rockets to riding in them. No matter their position, all the women featured here cemented their position in space history through their many accomplishments.

Katherine Johnson and the Mathematicians of NASA

At the beginning of World War II, the demand for aeronautical engineering began increasing exponentially. Langley Memorial Aeronautical Labratory began hiring women in 1935 to do number crunching. Margot Lee Shetterly’s 2016 book Hidden Figures told the stories of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan along with many others. Additionally,  the critically acclaimed 2017 movie based on the book focused on these “human calculators.”

The women highlighted in Hidden Figures worked for NACA (later NASA) starting in the 40s and 50s. Through their math, they worked on making the flying machines better, stronger, and faster and calculating flight trajectories for important missions, including the Apollo missions.

NASA recognized Katherine Johnson specifically in 2017 through naming the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility after her. Without the research and dedication of Johnson and her contemporaries, NASA would not be the same as it is today.

The Very First Woman in Space

The first female space explorer- first woman in spaceValentina Tereshkova orbited the Earth 48 times and became the first woman in space in June of 1963. Before being chosen as a Soviet cosmonaut, she never even flew a plane. Rather, she was a textile worker and amateur parachute jumper. The latter skill earned her the job. After eighteen months of grueling training, she became the only woman out of five to be selected.

Beyond just being the first woman in space, she remains the only woman to ever fly a solo mission. Since her mission, Museum exhibits, stage plays, and documentaries celebrated her space legacy . Additionally, she carried the Olympic torch for part of its journey in both the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Sally Ride: Female Physicist and American Astronaut

The first American woman to go to space and the youngest astronaut everSally Ride blasted down barriers as she blasted into space in 1983 as the first American female astronaut to actually enter the final frontier. She served as a mission specialist on the STS-7 space shuttle mission. As a mission specialist on that flight, Ride worked a robotic arm to help release satellites into space.

After her time as an active astronaut, Ride continued to work in the STEM field, particularly in encouraging STEM education. She wrote books about space exploration and co-founded Sally Ride Science in 2001. Her work with the organization aimed to support students into careers within STEM, particularly girls and minorities. Through teacher training, books, festivals, classroom activities and more, she sought to transform the idea of what a successful scientist could look like. Even after her death in 2013, her legacy continues.

The Women of ExoTrex 2

ExoTrex2 stem game character concept of female space operativeWhen looking to engage students in STEM learning and space exploration, look no further than ExoTrex 2, a game that will test their physics, chemistry and critical thinking abilitities. Exotrex 2 is a beautifully rendered, STEM focused game that will challenge and engage your 8th – 10th grade science students.

The player partners with the AI Fiona and supervisor Dr. Estelle Burke, a female space pioneer herself, to find a new home for humanity. To complete this mission, students start by balancing speed, thrust, and acceleration while navigating gravitational fields to successfully land rovers on their chosen planet or moon. Also, they remotely navigate their rovers to collect ground and atmospheric samples and later analyze them for their chemical compositions.  Finally, Students will learn about the planetary characteristics of each destination and take observational notes in order to report their findings back to Dr. Burke. 

Help get your students passionate about space with these profiles of female space history-makers and by going hands-on with ExoTrex!

Get into Space with ExoTrex 2
Buy The Game
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Women’s History Month: Our Female Game Developers

Last year, during Women’s History Month, we featured many of our female game developers and other employees in short profiles over three separate blogs. In celebration of this year’s Women’s History Month, we re-share these profiles to show our appreciation of our talented employees and to showcase these successful women who have thrived in the gaming industry and other STEM-related fields.

Sara Platner

Sara, one of our female game developersGrowing up I was always pushed towards the math and sciences because I naturally good at them, but my heart always called to more creative pursuits. My mother gave me the wise advice that “If you do what you love for work, it’ll become your work and not what you love.” With that in mind, I applied to engineering programs across the east coast, before coming across a school that featured a Game Design and Development major. Although heavily computer science based, the major also taught design, animation, 3D modeling, audio, and narration. Instantly, I knew it was a perfect match: a field both technical and creative.

I loved college and consider it to be some of the best years of my life! Starting my freshman year, my major was 11% female: 22 girls to 220 boys. I would never have more than 4 girls in a core class, and my major’s labs were often entirely male. It might seem intimidating, but it really wasn’t. Guys are just guys, and I balanced them out by joining a sorority.

Since graduating from college, I’ve been working at Dig-It! Games creating science and history video games. Due to the small size of the company, I’ve been able to be involved in nearly every process: Development, Design, Research, Script Writing, QA, and Production. I would definitely encourage young women to pursue a career in the technology field. Obviously computer science is incredibly technical and difficult, but so is becoming a doctor or a lawyer; so is everything worth doing!

Melanie Stegman

Melanie, one of our female game developersI started learning to code in C# when I was 44 years old. While I learned some BASIC coding in high school, I found the whole process stupid and boring. While I knew that the Atari games I loved were created by programming, I couldn’t connect to it. My 17-year-old self wanted to solve important, complicated problems. Real, important problems that required creative thinking were problems like: What causes cancer? What makes us feel stressed out? How does stress affect our immune system? Could we optimize our immune system to fight cancer better?  So I threw myself into biochemistry. I loved it. I worked every single day for 3 years. Then, for the next 7 years, I decided to always take a whole ½ a day off every weekend.

Whenever I interacted with non-scientists, people always said the same two things to me: 1) You don’t look like a scientist and 2) I have no idea what you are talking about. The second statement bothered me more, because what I was talking about were things that effect everyone every single day: cells, receptors, molecules in our bodies. So, I decided the big complicated problem I would focus on would be teaching the average person how cells, receptors and molecules work. If everyone had this basic vocabulary then we could talk about health, the environment, and funding for research much more clearly.

At the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) as the Director of the Learning Technologies Program, I conducted research on learning and confidence gains in players of the game Immune Attack. I published my research, designed and developed a follow up game called Immune Defense. When the FAS decided not to work on learning games any longer, I chose to become an indie (independent) game developer.

The Transition to Game Development

Starting a career as indie game developer, I learned repeatedly that game development is difficult and time-consuming. Also, I learned (again) how difficult and time consuming writing grants can be. In November 2016, I started working at Dig-It Games. Here at DIG we share similar goals: make games that teach important concepts that people really enjoy playing. My brain is challenged, my colleagues are a ton of fun, and I learn new things every minute.

ExoTrex, a STEM-focused space exploration game

In my own time, I still work on my own molecular biology games. I continue to be a very happy “woman in tech.” And yeah, everyone still says I don’t look like a game developer, just like they used to say I didn’t look like a biochemist. Scientists and engineers on TV and movies still are usually men… the people doing the cool, meaningful things in stories are usually men. (Except for that fantastic Hidden Figures book/movie!)

Let me just tell you, it is a lot easier to ignore those voices of doubt when you have colleagues around you who treat you with respect. Find a place where people respect you, and don’t try to tough it out in an unfriendly environment. There are many places looking for people who enjoy solving problems, who help their colleagues face new problems. Wherever you are now you are gaining experiences that you can use in the future for solving new problems. Keep learning and keep looking for new jobs.

Just a thought: maybe we female tech people should wear shirts saying “This is what a game developer, graphic artist, QA expert, educational technical researcher, CEO looks like!”

Suzi Wilczynski

Suzi, our female CEOEverything I know about entrepreneurship I learned from my mother.  Ok, that may be a slight exaggeration, but the fact is, most of what I needed to know to found an educational gaming company I really did learn from my mother, without either of us truly intending it.

My mom never developed a game, but she incorporated all the parts of good educational game design into her work teaching students with learning disabilities: building skills, measuring and rewarding progress, engaging all types of learners, and developing age-appropriate content and expectations.  Her example has helped me build games that are recognized by industry experts as seamlessly blending fun and learning and that fill a gap in the market for authentic, skills-based, interactive games that are tailored for how middle school students think and learn.

I learned many things from my mother, but perhaps the most important is one of the most basic qualities of entrepreneurship: perseverance.  My mom went from being a part time tutor to founding and running the Study Skills department at a prominent private school.  She believed profoundly in her mission and overcame many challenges and obstacles to accomplish her goals.  Her example was inspirational for me as I founded and grew my business.

I did not set out to be a business owner.  I started out as a teacher looking for a tool for my middle school classroom, but I couldn’t find one.  So I built it, thus starting my new career as the owner of a tech startup.

Dig-It! Games logo in female game developers profile post

Starting Dig-It! Games

I founded Dig-It! Games because I want to change how history and science are taught.  My vehicle is largely archaeology, but my purpose is to truly make a difference in how we think about education.  I chose archaeology as a tool because it’s something I’m passionate about, but also because archaeology is a combination of science and humanities.  It’s my belief that if we introduce kids to the scientific process in a non-threatening way, they will have more confidence in math and science classrooms.

By way of archaeology, we can teach kids how to think–how to analyze, think critically, process information, communicate findings–skills that are the building blocks of all learning. Through our archaeology and history games games kids learn scientific process and historical analysis skills, while improving reading comprehension and building historical knowledge, all in a way that sparks their imagination and engages their attention.  Learning should be fun–Dig-It! Games is on a mission to ensure that it is.

Women in Tech: To Aspiring Female Game Developers and More

Words from Suzi Wilczynski

To all the young women out there who want to pursue careers in STEM or who dream of being entrepreneurs: the best thing you can do is explore.  Try everything.  Try things that stretch your limits and push you out of your comfort zone.  Attempt things you think you’d never in a million years have an interest in—you might be quite surprised.  Explore multiple fields and experiment with new ones.  Think creatively about where you fit and how to best use your skills.  Not everyone is good at everything; it’s ok to decide something isn’t your thing, as long as you don’t give up on exploring other options.

Excavate! Rome, one of Dig-It's social studies archaeology gamesA key thing to remember is that failure is part of the learning process.  So often we are taught that failure is a stopping point when in fact it’s actually the best way to grow.  We learn so much more from failure than from success, but schools, and society, are not built around that concept.  So don’t be afraid to try new things.  You will fail at some of them, but then you’ll pick yourself up, evaluate what you learned and try again.  The great secret of success is that it’s a process, there’s no straight line and every path is different.  You may have to try a lot of things and fail often to find your path, but as long as you keep at it, consider yourself a success.

In Summary

It’s important to remember that, even though they are underrepresented, women are welcomed and can thrive in technological fields. As time goes on, demand increases for female game developers, female biochemists, female archaeologists, female programmers and more. Diversity helps create better products after all! Dig-It! Games encourages all girls out there to pursue their dreams, whatever they might be.

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Women’s History Month: Female Rulers from World History

World History and Women’s History Month

As we begin Women’s History Month 2018, we take a look back through world history to discover the powerful female rulers of ancient civilizations. In Egypt, Byzantium, and Maya, women served as pharaohs, empresses, and queens. Some made extremely important accomplishments for their respective civilizations.

Hatshepsut: The Female Pharoah

Women's History Month: Remembering HatshepsutHatshepsut’s reign as pharoah began in 1479 B.C. and lasted over two decades until 1458 B.C. She ruled for the longest out of any of Egypt’s female rulers. Egyptologists consider her to be the most successful female ruler in ancient Egypt. In fact, many consider her one of Egypt’s most successful rulers overall. However, after her death, others tried to erase most evidence of her reign.  This fascinating Ted Ed talk goes in to how her time as pharaoh was erased by those who succeeded her on the throne. Details about her life didn’t begin to arise until the 19th and 20th century and evolved over time to recognize her accomplishments. Our modern understanding of Hatshepsut is far different than it used to be.

The only portrayals of Hatshepsut as a woman come from her early years on the throne. Later on, statues and likenesses portrayed her as a man, complete with the traditional fake beard that many pharaohs wore. Ambitious building projects and a trading expedition to the land of Punt that brought back exotic goods like ivory and incense mark notable points of her reign.

Teach your students about Hatshepsut with this lesson plan comparing her rule to Ramses II from the UCI History Project. Alternatively, go through all of Egypt’s greatest rulers, including Hatshepsut with a lesson from PBS.

Theodora: Empress of Byzantine

Women's History Month: Remembering Theodora of ByzantiumTheodora rose to power after being born into the lowest class of Byzantine (or Eastern Roman) society. She began her life on the outskirts of the empire with her father, an animal trainer. After her father’s death, Theodora became an actress to support the family. However, this scandalous profession made it so Theodora had to scramble and seize every chance to move up in society. Her future husband Justinian began his life from similarly humble roots and changed a law forbidding his marriage to a former actress in order to marry her. Their origins are explained in this great Extra History video which also includes many more videos on parts of their reign.

The husband and wife ruled as equals. Theodora guided Justinian through religious unrest during his rule and passed laws to expand the rights of women. Even after her death, her influence remained evident in Justinian’s later rule where he continued to strive to help women and other persecuted groups.

Get your students to learn more about Theodora with a large amount of resources from Teachers Pay Teachers.

The Powerful Queens of Maya

Women's History Month: Remembering Queens of MayaWe learn more and more about the queens of Maya as time goes on, and much of their lives remain undiscovered. Lady Yohl Ik’nal is the first recorded female ruler in Maya history and one of a few to bear a full royal title. Also, Lady Six Sky oversaw the city of Naranjo, commissioning several monuments and engaging in conquest during her reign. Finally, Lady K’abel, whose likely tomb was discovered in 2012, served as queen and military governer of the Wak kingdom.

Whether or not the queens of Maya were sometimes “warrior queens” is still a subject of archaeological study. In 2014, sculptures discovered in Naachtun showed both kings and queens as conquering heroes. Either way, they likely wielded considerable power at points in the history of Maya

For a historical fiction account of the lives of Maya’s queens, try out the Mists of Palenque series of books. For a general lesson plan on Maya civilization, check out some Scholastic resources.

Discovering the Role of Women through Archaeology in our Excavate! Series

Excavate! Byzantine portfolio image for social studies game

While our Excavate! games don’t focus on specific rulers, each one explores the role of women in ancient societies. Learn more by playing Excavate! Egypt, Excavate! Byzantine, Excavate! Mesoamerica, or any of our other three civilizations! If we missed one of your favorite examples of female rulers from history in this Women’s History Month post, let us know!

Learn about women through history and more!
Play Excavate!

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More Than They Bargained For…Reflections From Our Summer Interns

“Back to School” signs in stores around town are one indication that the summer is fast coming to an end, but another signal of the changing of the seasons is that we have to say goodbye to our amazing summer interns!

As a mission-based game studio, we not only make games for educational purposes but we also see the process of game design as an educational endeavor.  This summer Matt, honed is coding skills while working with the development team and Haley did a tremendous amount of research while working with the education team.

Here is a recap of their experiences in their own words:

My name is Matt Schneider, and I will be a senior at St John’s College High School in DC in just a couple weeks.  Since I am interested in going into the Computer Science field I decided to look for an internship that would get my foot in the door.  I was a beta tester for Dig-It! Games this past year so I applied for an internship here to get more coding experience.

 

Going into my internship at Dig-it Games, I expected to be helping out in some projects or other small things. I did not expect the amount of responsibility and work that I have had, but I have enjoyed it a lot. I learned a lot about both the developing aspect and the team aspect of game design. I learned about programs, such as Git with Source Tree and Text Mesh Pro, and improved my coding ability within Unity.  My project was to reskin and improve an existing match 3 game. I had to work with the project’s previous code, while also writing new code.  I designed the game with another developer, Reuben, and together we brainstormed new ideas to include in the game.  I also experienced what it is like to be making a game with a team: having meetings about the game, feedback from testers, and a professional and dedicated art team.  I had to create art lists, implement all the new art, and give feedback on it.  My favorite part of my time at Dig-it games was seeing the positive feedback and the excitement from others about the game I created.  I really enjoyed my summer at Dig-it games and am thankful for this opportunity.

 

 

My name is Haley, and I am a rising junior at George Washington University, majoring in Archaeology. I have been working at Dig-It! Games for over a year but this summer I have been working in the office, rather than solely from my computer back at campus. Working in-house has been a great experience that I wish lasted longer than a three-month summer. Dig-It! Games is an exciting workplace that thrives on collaboration and I like being a member of that dynamic. There are three main departments: development, art, and education. I work within the education department.

 

As an intern in the education department, I mainly research the games we are creating, such as Mesopotamia or Egypt. The type of research I do ranges from finding what is being taught in schools to actually looking through different museum databases to find artifacts. Finding artifacts is one of my favorite parts of the job; it is like a big treasure hunt. I am usually given a list of ideas or parameters that we want the list of artifacts to fulfill, but the tricky part is that we don’t know what specifically is out there. There have been many times where I have as many as 12 tabs open all with different types of clay figures trying to find the right one. I probably have looked at hundreds of various artifacts over the summer!

 

 


Women’s History Month #3

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, I am happy to share the story of our founder and CEO:

Suzi Wilczynski

Everything I know about entrepreneurship I learned from my mother.  Ok, that may be a slight exaggeration, but the fact is, most of what I needed to know to found an educational gaming company I really did learn from my mother, without either of us truly intending it.

My mom never developed a game, but she incorporated all the parts of good educational game design into her work teaching students with learning disabilities: building skills, measuring and rewarding progress, engaging all types of learners, and developing age-appropriate content and expectations.  Her example has helped me build games that are recognized by industry experts as seamlessly blending fun and learning and that fill a gap in the market for authentic, skills-based, interactive games that are tailored for how middle school students think and learn.

I learned many things from my mother, but perhaps the most important is one of the most basic qualities of entrepreneurship: perseverance.  My mom went from being a part time tutor to founding and running the Study Skills department at a prominent private school.  She believed profoundly in her mission and overcame many challenges and obstacles to accomplish her goals.  Her example was inspirational for me as I founded and grew my business.

I did not set out to be a business owner.  I started out as a teacher looking for a tool for my middle school classroom, but I couldn’t find one.  So I built it, thus starting my new career as the owner of a tech startup.

I founded Dig-It! Games because I want to change how history and science are taught.  My vehicle is largely archaeology, but my purpose is to truly make a difference in how we think about education.  I chose archaeology as a tool because it’s something I’m passionate about, but also because archaeology is a combination of science and humanities.  It’s my belief that if we introduce kids to the scientific process in a non-threatening way, they will have more confidence in math and science classrooms.  Through archaeology, we can teach kids how to think–how to analyze, think critically, process information, communicate findings–skills that are the building blocks of all learning.  Through my archaeology and history games games kids learn scientific process and historical analysis skills, while improving reading comprehension and building historical knowledge, all in a way that sparks their imagination and engages their attention.  Learning should be fun–Dig-It! Games is on a mission to ensure that it is.

To all the young women out there who want to pursue careers in STEM or who dream of being entrepreneurs: the best thing you can do is explore.  Try everything.  Try things that stretch your limits and push you out of your comfort zone.  Try things you think you’d never in a million years have an interest in—you might be quite surprised.  Explore multiple fields and experiment with new ones.  Think creatively about where you fit and how to best use your skills.  Not everyone is good at everything; it’s ok to decide something isn’t your thing, as long as you don’t give up on exploring other options.  A key thing to remember is that failure is part of the learning process.  So often we are taught that failure is a stopping point when in fact it’s actually the best way to grow.  We learn so much more from failure than from success, but schools, and society, are not built around that concept.  So don’t be afraid to try new things.  You will fail at some of them, but then you’ll pick yourself up, evaluate what you learned and try again.  The great secret of success is that it’s a process, there’s no straight line and every path is different.  You may have to try a lot of things and fail often to find your path, but as long as you keep at it, consider yourself a success.

 

 

 


The Women of Dig-It! Games Part 2

This is our second week of celebrating the women who work here at Dig-It! Games. We are enjoying this time to reflect and talk about the accomplishments of our coworkers. This week we have Melanie and Jes!

 

Melanie Stegman

The first thing you should know is I started learning to code in C# when I was 44 years old.  I learned some BASIC coding in high school, but our class spent weeks making a program that printed out a receipt like a cash register. I thought the whole process was stupid and boring. I knew that the Atari games I loved were created by programming, but programming is just memorization of a language written down by someone else. My 17-year-old self wanted to solve important, complicated problems. Real, important problems that required creative thinking were problems like: What causes cancer? What makes us feel stressed out? How does stress affect our immune system? Could we optimize our immune system to fight cancer better?  So I threw myself into biochemistry. I loved it. I worked every single day for 3 years, and then for the next 7 years I decided to always take at least ½ a day off every weekend.

Whenever I interacted with non-scientists, people always said the same two things to me: 1) You don’t look like a scientist and 2) I have no idea what you are talking about. The second statement bothered me more, because what I was talking about were things that effect everyone every single day: cells, receptors, molecules in our bodies. If no one understands what I am talking about, then no one knows what cold medicine, anti-depressants, or sugar does in their bodies. If no one understands what a typical biomedical scientist is doing in the lab, then no one understands that we really need more funding for biomedical research!  So, I decided the big complicated problem I would focus on would be teaching the average person how cells, receptors and molecules work. If everyone had this basic vocabulary then we could talk about health, the environment and funding for research much more clearly.

At the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) as the Director of the Learning Technologies Program, I conducted research on learning and confidence gains in players of the game Immune Attack. I published my research, designed and developed a follow up game called Immune Defense. Then the FAS decided not to work on learning games any longer. I chose to become an indie (independent) game developer because I wanted to focus on making games about cells and getting them onto people’s computers/devices.

So!  Age 44.  Starting a career as indie game developer, I learned repeatedly that game development is difficult and time consuming. I also learned (again) how difficult and time consuming writing grants can be. I started working at Dig-It Games in November 2016. Here at DIG we share similar goals: Make games that teach important concepts that people really enjoy playing. I enjoy it here very much. I am developing an RPG about dinosaurs and helping design playtesting sessions and analyze data about learning in our educational games.  My brain is challenged, my colleagues are a ton of fun, and I am learning new things every minute.

 

Everything I’ve done up to this point in my life allows me to be a valuable contributor to many different conversations in the studio. In my own time, I still work on my own molecular biology games; my work and personal goals synergize with each other. I continue to be a very happy “woman in tech.” And yeah, everyone still says I don’t look like a game developer, just like they used to say I didn’t look like a biochemist. Scientists and engineers on TV and movies still are usually men… the people doing the cool, meaningful things in stories are usually men. (Except for that fantastic Hidden Figures book/move!) The reason appearances matter is simple: tech and science (really anything you dedicate yourself to) will present a challenge sooner or later. Let me just tell you, it is a lot easier to ignore those voices of doubt when you have colleagues around you who treat you with respect. Find a place where people respect you, and don’t try to tough it out in an unfriendly environment. There are many places looking for people who enjoy solving problems, who help their colleagues face new problems. Wherever you are now you are gaining experiences that you can use in the future for solving new problems. Keep learning and keep looking for new jobs.

Just a thought, maybe we female tech people should wear shirts saying “This is what a game developer, graphic artist, QA expert, educational technical researcher, CEO looks like!”

 

Jes Mlyneic

After five years teaching, I sought out a new adventure and added working at Dig-It! Games to my resume, which allowed me to create educational games and help other teachers learn how to incorporate and use games in their classroom. By working at Dig-It! Games, I have had the honor of working with teachers on how to use games in their classroom and have presented at ETIS in Baltimore, Montpelier, and the National Conference for Social Studies. Most recently, I have been accepted to present at ISTE in June on Game-Based Learning. By play-testing Excavate, Loot Pursuit: Early America and ExoTrex: Episode 1 both in-house and at school sites in Maryland and Virginia, I have been able to build relationships with both elementary and middle schools teachers. In my game portfolio, I have worked on Loot Pursuit: Early America and ExoTrex: Episode 1 and 2. Today, I work as a second-grade teacher when I am not working on projects and curricular materials for Dig-It! Games. The world of education is always changing, and most recently, I have been accepted to begin my graduate certificate in Education Leadership from George Washington University!

 

 

 


The Women of Dig-It! Games

March is Women’s History Month – it gives everyone a chance to step back and take a look at how far women’s rights have come and how far we have to go. This is a reason to celebrate the accomplishments of women who have persevered and aspired to do great things. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women only make up 25% of all computing jobs. We want to inspire more women in tech so we are featuring the Women of Dig-It! Games in our blogs this month!

Elisa:

I started at Dig-It! Games in November 2016 so I’m still new. I have spent the last eight years teaching high school Spanish and decided to switch fields when I moved to Washington, DC. The switch to technology wasn’t incredibly difficult for me as I grew up around computers and was a Technology Integrator at my last school. My parents were both in the technology field and so my sisters and I never saw it as a strange world. I was lucky enough to grow up in an environment that encouraged me to do whatever I needed to reach my goals. As a teacher, I loved speaking with teenage girls about their futures and encouraging them no matter what the role.

Here at Dig-It!, my main focus of work is the educational content of many of the games, but I’m currently working on the Excavate! series. I also am involved in outreach and I love being able to still work with teachers and students. We recently hosted GRRL Tech – an after-school club for middle school girls interested in technology.

 

Ashley:

For as long as I can remember, being an artist has been the only thing I’ve wanted to do. I’ve never really changed career paths or aims—
being an artist has always been part of me, which is interesting since no one else in my family was ever interested in such a thing. Painting has always provided an escape, which is the big hook that always kept me coming back. I could create places, creatures and characters that people normally could only dream of, and video games similarly stimulated my imagination. I grew up on The Legend of Zelda series which introduced me to the fantasy genre (Lord of the Rings, World of Warcraft, and others), and I liked it so much that it has guided my art in that direction my whole life. Painting for me is all about creating interesting worlds, which would make working on video games a perfect fit, and so I committed to finding any possible way to do it full time.

Here at Dig-It!, I get to do it as my job! I have worked on almost all of the games, but the image to the right is from our newest Excavate! game.

If there’s something you want to spend your life doing, work at it until you think you can’t any longer, and then work some more. Commit to this, and the world is yours.

 

Sara:

Growing up I was always pushed towards the math and sciences because I naturally good at them, but my heart always called to more creative pursuits. My mother gave me the wise advice that “If you do what you love for work, it’ll become your work and not what you love.” With that in mind I applied to engineering programs across the east coast, before coming across a school that featured a Game Design and Development major. Although heavily computer science based, the major also taught design, animation, 3D modeling, audio, and narration to name a few. I knew instantly that it was a perfect match: a field both technical and creative.

College was some of the best years of my life! Starting my freshman year, my major was 11% female: 22 girls to 220 boys. I would never have more than 4 girls in a core class, and my major’s labs were often entirely male. It might seem intimidating, but it really wasn’t. Guys are just guys and I balanced them out by joining a sorority.
Since graduating from college, I’ve been working at Dig-It! Games creating science and history video games. Due to the small size of the company, I’ve been able to be involved in nearly every process: Development, Design, Research, Script Writing, QA, and Production. I recently wrote the scrip I would definitely encourage young women to pursue a career in the technology field. Obviously computer science is incredibly technical and difficult, but so is becoming a doctor or a lawyer; so is everything worth doing!

 

 

Stay tuned next week for more about the awesome women of Dig-It! Games!

 

 


Getting to Know You: Tim Mrozek, Artist

Tim Mrozek is an artist at Dig-It! Games, bringing environments and characters alive through modeling and animation. Tim grew up in Catonsville, which is just outside of Baltimore, and of course, is a huge Orioles fan. He moved to Silver Spring, MD about right years ago to take a job as a 3D artist and animator at the National Institutes of Health. After that, he worked for four years at Pixeldust Studios as Lead 3D Modeler and 3D animator and worked on around 20-25 projects, including Fabric of the Cosmos, Alien Deep, NOVA: Cracking Your Genetic Code, The Smithsonian’s X3D project. Tim was fortunate enough to be nominated for an Emmy for his work as character artist on a Smithsonian Channel show called Mass Extinction: Life on the Brink. Tim studied Animation Major at UMBC. In the spring, He’ll be back at UMBC to teach ART 484 (advanced animation) in the evenings.

Tim sat down to answer some questions about his average day in the studio , what attracted him to educational games and his go-to karaoke songs.

Tim

 

What’s an average day at Dig-It! Games look like for you?

The flow of my day changes pretty frequently, but there are a few things that remain pretty constant. Every day starts with my bike ride from Silver Spring to Bethesda. This, of course, is immediately followed by obtaining coffee. Then I’ll settle down at my desk where I’ll do a quick visual review of any works in progress posted by the other artists. After that it really varies on a daily basis. Sometimes I get right into zbrush and start sculpting a 3D model for one of our games, or I’ll open Photoshop and get to work designing the UI for one of our games, or menus. Sometimes it’s a team meeting to critique each others work and discuss how we want to move forward on a particular design or game. Each day is exciting when you have a team of artists you really enjoy working with, and the dev team isn’t too bad either.

What got you interested in game design?

I’ve always been incredibly intrigued by video games since the first time I played an NES. As a 32 year old, video games as a whole are only a few years older than me, so I’ve always been incredibly excited to age along with games. The moment that I really knew I wanted to pursue making games was when I first played Riven: The Sequel to Myst. I had never seen CG look so incredible. The mindblowing still renders in that game, combined with the really challenging, naturally integrated puzzles and story took me completely off-guard. I knew that I wanted to learn how to do this, and if I got lucky, make a living making games for the rest of my life. I’ve even joined a team of volunteers, called The Starry Expanse, that are rebuilding this inspirational game for the new generation using the Unreal Engine.

What is your favorite video or digital game from childhood?

Since I already mentioned Riven, I’ll go with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This wasn’t the first 3D game I had played, but it was the first 3D game in my favorite series of games (Legend of Zelda). This game gave me a whole new perspective of what was possible in a video game. I have probably replayed this game about 10 times in my life. While small by today’s standards, the open world felt endless to me at the time. The first time I stepped onto Hyrule Field I felt like I was given complete freedom to explore anywhere I wanted, and I had never experienced this in a video game before.

What drew you to Dig-It! Games?
I’ve always been interested in using animation and CG for education. Before Dig-It! Games I was working at Pixeldust Studios where I was creating animation for Smithsonian Channel, National Geographic, and Discovery. I have always gravitated to games and TV that explore science, archaeology, and education as a whole. This, combined with my interest in making video games made Dig-It! a pretty natural choice. I love the idea of creating games that will inspire creativity and exploration in a new generation of kids.

What song would you sing at karaoke and why?
Funny you should ask, I was just at a karaoke party a week or two ago, and I sang three songs. Bad Romance, by Lady Gaga, Heaven on Their Minds from Jesus Christ, Superstar and In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins.


Getting to Know You: Steve Hunnicutt, Head Developer

Steve Hunnicutt is Dig-It! Games’ Head Developer responsible for bringing the coding to life. Steve’s father was in the Navy, so he grew up in lots of different places, including Honolulu, Hawaii for three years. After his father retired from the Navy, we moved to Jacksonville, Florida. He spent more of my childhood there than anywhere else, so he considers it his hometown. Steve moved to Baltimore in 1990 and has been living there ever since.

Steve sat down for a Q&A to give us more insight into his role at Dig-It! Games, what sparked his love of programming and how aspiring programmers can get started.

steve

What’s an average day at Dig-It! Games look like for you?
I don’t really have an “average” day. One day, we’re working out the design for a new game and doing prototypes. The next day, we may start working on the code architecture. Sometimes, I do concept sketches to communicate ideas to the rest of the team. It’s always something different.

What got you interested in game design?
I love playing games. Board games are favorites, but I’m always playing some sort of video game. Also, I’ve been coding in one language or another for almost thirty years. So when I had the opportunity to work at a game studio, I grabbed it.

Any advice for kids who want to become programmers?
It’s easier than ever to dip your toe into programming. There are lots of different ways to get started. One of the easiest is to start building web pages; all you need is a text editor and a web browser. There are innumerable tutorials to get you started. Once you have a simple page, you can add interactivity with JavaScript. You can make a lot of simple games very easily, but the platform has the potential for very complex games. The only limit is your imagination and your skill.

What is your favorite video or digital game from childhood?
My family purchased an Apple //e computer about the time I was starting the eighth grade. I took to it immediately, playing games, connecting to bulletin board systems (BBS) and writing my own programs. My favorite game was one that I played with my mother. It was called Starlanes.

The goal of Starlanes was to build the most profitable interstellar company. Each player would place a star base each turn. Adjacent star bases connected into a single company. Companies that were adjacent to a star were more profitable. In addition, each turn the player could buy stock in any of the companies, even your opponent’s. If two companies touched, they merged and you could get a big stock payoff.

Once upon a time, I had the source code to Starlanes. I still hope that someday I’ll find it again and I could bring it back to life on modern computers.

If you were ruler of your own country what would be the first law you would introduce?
This is a tough question. I think I would institute a social welfare system that guaranteed basic income, healthcare, and nutrition to my citizens. Read Ernest Callenbach’s “Ecotopia” for a much more detailed vision of a society that I find compelling.


Getting to Know You: Natasha Martinez, Developer

Hailing from Portsmouth, NH, Natasha Martinez is the newest member of the development team at Dig-It! Games. After graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in game design and development, Martinez jumped into the studio to begin working on a brand-new vocabulary game (I Have A Word™ is coming soon!). She is very much credited with the game’s development from start to finish.

Get to know Natasha with a short Q&A below:

What’s your day look like in the studio?

An average day at Dig-It! Games is very relaxed. I come in each morning and check for any new bugs found the day before. After fixing those, I launch right in to a new feature or two and keep progressing on the game. Each day, the game comes closer to a releasable version until it’s ready to go!

How did you first become interested in games—and what’s your favorite game that you’ve ever played (video, board game, app, etc.) and why?

Growing up, I always had a game to play, whether it was for Windows ’98 or the Dreamcast. I really enjoyed playing the games with my little brother. When we finally got Game Boys we were ecstatic! Our first game for it was Pokémon. I spent countless hours playing my first Pokémon game. We always got the newest one as soon as it came out.

Natasha

Why did you want to work at Dig-It! Games?

I’m very interested in educational games. I grew up playing great titles. I’m not sure how much content I remember now, but I do remember enjoying the math and reading. I want to continue making even more fun educational games. Learning doesn’t have to be boring! I want to mix the fun of video games with education.

I’m sure you’ve had a chance to play all of Dig-It! Games’ products. Which one is your favorite and why?

I enjoy 3 Digits the most. In elementary school, we had a unit to learn Mayan culture and their counting system. I was happy to refresh my memory on how to do it!

What’s your favorite snack food?
I love Scooby Doo fruit snacks!

Tell me about a favorite memory you’ve had so far in working with the team.

The other day we had a great time welcoming our newest team member, Tim Nicklas. We played Pictionary and had a great bonding experience.

Can you give me a sneak peek on something you’re working on right now?

We’re currently working on a new title for middle schoolers. I can’t tell you much, but it’s looking great so far!