Part of what makes Central MA so unique is its abundance of colleges and universities. And at each institution, there are professors, instructors, and coaches who go above and beyond simply dispensing academic fact inside the classroom; this special breed of educator becomes mentor, role model, and inspiration. It is these individuals whom we honor in Focus on Faculty. If you know a professor who should be featured in this section, please contact the Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet Becker College’s Professor Terrasa Ulm
Teaching Students How to Play Games
By Michael Shivick
You’re going to love Professor Terrasa Ulm. Why? Because not only is she a dedicated and skilled professor, she’s also a part of Becker’s Interactive Gaming department, and that means she instructs students in the behind-the-scenes world of gaming, from development to design to art to programming. And as if just having courses in gaming wouldn’t be cool enough, Becker actually offers a degree program in this progressive field. I sat down with Professor Ulm to get the scoop on how this program came to be, how she became part of it and what working with her students means to her, and just what’s involved in becoming a gaming media major.
Pulse: What was your motivation for becoming a professor?
Prof. Ulm: It was a natural choice for me. I love working on independent interactive-media projects, anything from personal experiments to professional consulting as well as keeping up with all the latest developments in the industry. Furthermore, I find it incredibly rewarding to share life-long learning with others and help students realize their full potential. Working in academia allows me to combine my research interests with my love of teaching.
Pulse: Becker’s gaming media major is one of only a handful in the country; who decided that there needed to be such a major and why? Was there a big demand for that particular focus?
Prof Ulm: It is important to note that while relatively new, Interactive Entertainment [gaming] is one of the fastest growing industries today. As such, there is enormous demand for skilled artists, designers, programmers, and developers; however, there are special considerations within the gaming field. These artists and developers are at a disadvantage if they simply come from a traditional background rather than specialized study which addresses the unique processes, approaches, and challenges of this emerging media. Director Robert Fernandez recognized the demand for a degree program in the rapidly growing field of gaming media and took on the arduous task of developing the program from scratch. Our Dean, Ted Duprez, and Becker College’s Vice-President, Raj Pathi, were also integral to the process.
Pulse: What kind of coursework is involved in the major?
Prof. Ulm: We offer two concentrations, one in design and one in development. A Game Design student might be assigned a project to model a character of his or her own design or to create an animation-short using Maya, while a Game Development student might be asked to produce an engine modification to create new levels or physics features to a game. The design coursework covers areas of aesthetics, visual design, motion, modeling, skinning, and animation. The development coursework concentrates on OOP for working with game engines and artificial intelligence as well as special areas such as mobile gaming and massively multiplayer designs.
Pulse: You have a reputation for going above and beyond the call of duty for your students…?
Prof. Ulm: I believe there is much more to the college experience than coursework. I try to make myself available to my students outside of classes for more than just homework assistance. We often spend afternoons in the Design Building discussing the latest game releases, new technologies, and our opinions on parental rating systems…We [also] host a series of lectures each semester and monthly Game Program festivities. This semester, we’ve had a Consoles Through the Ages party, a Halloween Horror Fest, and we’re planning a karaoke challenge. Our lecture series launched with two speakers from Harmonix Music Systems and has been a big hit with our students. I am also the faculty representative for the Interactive Entertainment student organization.
Pulse: What do you find most challenging about being a professor?
Prof. Ulm: It is both a challenge and a joy to see students graduate and move on to further academic or professional pursuits. On the one hand, as a professor, you have spent 4 years working with a student to hone his or her skills and talents, and a close rapport has emerged, so it can be difficult to see that come to an end. Conversely, a student’s success is the greatest reward.
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