USC Games established the Gerald A. Lawson Fund for Black and Indigenous Students


  • USC Games has announced a new fund in honor of a black engineer who transformed video games.
  • The fund received a significant contribution from Take-Two Interactive to launch the initiative.
  • The purpose of the endowment is to support black and Indigenous students in the gaming industry.
  • See more stories on the Insider business page.

USC Games at the University of Southern California, ranked first undergraduate gaming program in North America in 2021, honors gaming pioneer Gerald “Jerry” Lawson by creating an academic endowment in his name.

Lawson was a black engineer who led the design of one of the first game consoles.

The Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund was established to assist black and Indigenous students who wish to pursue undergraduate or graduate studies in video game design and computer science. Another goal of the fund is to help increase minority representation in the games and tech industry, Jim Huntley, professor at USC Interactive Media and Games, told Insider.

Take-Two Interactive, a publisher and creator of games such as “Grand Theft Auto V” and “Red Dead Redemption”, based in New York, through its label Rockstar Games, was among the contributors of the initial funding, constituting a large endowment for create the initiative.

“The reason we stand up for the Lawson Fund is that most of the current job opportunities are about your social network and the people you interact with on a professional and social basis. And a lot of those social connections are made during your years of undergraduate and graduate in college, ”Huntley said.

But if you are under-represented in universities across the country due to the rising cost of tuition, he added, you won’t have those links that will allow you to find job opportunities in gaming companies.

Bryant Young, a USC computer science student, echoed those thoughts. He told Insider: “We are more than qualified, but often the high cost of tuition prevents people from going.”

When industries are not particularly diverse, it is generally accepted that companies recruit as actively as possible from under-represented communities. But it’s very competitive because everyone is doing the same thing, said Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two Interactive. “Our hearts are in the right place, but the talent just isn’t there, and our point is – what do we need to do to make sure the talent is there?”

Take-Two Interactive has been involved in every part of the educational journey of students who wish to enter the gaming industry. Among many initiatives, the company is involved in colleges, supporting STEM programs, especially for students. Girls. These programs include “Girls Make Games” and “Games for Change”.

“Hopefully what we are doing will increase the universe of potential candidates and that this universe will benefit our competitors as well as ourselves,” Zelnick said. “It’s not a particularly selfish exercise.”

“We know, however, that we don’t want a zero-sum game, we want to change the game so that diversity becomes mainstream,” he added.

Boka Agboje, an undergraduate student studying interactive entertainment at USC, said he was encouraged by USC’s games program to take that first step. “We must continue to support all efforts to break down the barriers black and brown students face when working to enter the games industry.”

“One thing you hear in interviews in the gaming industry is the importance of a ‘culture adjustment.’ When for too long the ‘culture’ in many studios has been developed primarily by white males, candidates of color are placed in a quiet but ubiquitous place – a disadvantage, ”Agboje added.

Looking to the future, Noah Lee, an interactive media and game design student at USC, said, “I hope students can believe that by getting the scholarship, they are encouraged to continue their education. . “

Lawson, the fund’s namesake, was a key innovator in the video game industry. Besides his work on the Fairchild Channel F console, he also led the team that invented the interchangeable ROM game cartridges, by VentureBeat. A month before his death in April 2011, Lawson was recognized as an industry pioneer by the Interactive Game Developers Association.

His contributions are also on permanent display at the World Video Game Hall of Fame at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.

Huntley, who is fighting for change, said: “We really need more industry partners to embrace Take-Two’s perspective of investing in the future that everyone wants to see, which is more. diversity, more equity and inclusion from an industry perspective in the long term. “


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