My name is Jenn Hinton and for the past 14 years I have worked at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, NY; I will begin year #15 here on July 1. I am currently the Assistant Director of the RIT Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity, also known as MAGIC. The MAGIC Center is a university-wide research center AND a commercial, for-profit game studio that produces and publishes student and faculty work in the ever-changing and expanding field of digital media. The MAGIC Center was established in 2013 at the directive of RIT President Dr. William Destler. At MAGIC, we believe that you learn by making and it is our mission to provide students with the unique and challenging learning opportunity to develop, ship and publish a game that that they (or in some cases we, together) have created. In many ways, we are our own start-up company and we are teaching and leading by example this process. Shipping a game is both exhausting and exhilarating! The student learning and development associated with this process is unlike anything that I have ever been a part of, and is an ideal experience, that paired with their coursework and other “college experiences” prepares students well for the difficult, but rewarding career in the games industry.
So, what exactly does the Assistant Director of the MAGIC Center at RIT do? Great question-and one that depends on the day! Colleagues who work in the field of digital media often remark that my role is very similar to that of a “producer” and I think that they are right. I would add to that “community manager” as well as the public relations and social media role. Often I begin the day with a plan in mind of how I intend to spend it: the tasks that I need to complete, the meetings I need to attend and/or run. And often (more often than I like) that plan goes out the window and I need to adapt (quickly) and re-direct my energy and focus to what is in front of me. Many days I come home saying that I worked really hard and gave it my best effort, but I accomplished nothing on my “to do list”. Often, this is related to the “PR hat” that I wear. I mentioned just the other day to a colleague who is responsible for public relations at RIT that PR is a great a job, when it is going well. When it isn’t, I feel like I am a fire fighter. I spend a lot of time putting out fires and doing my best to ensure that everyone associated with us is represented the way that they deserve to be.
Student Affairs, residence life and orientation in particular were in so many ways the perfect training ground for this role: the unpredictability coupled with the need to react quickly and think on your feet. “Crisis management mode” still feels like second nature, and what often comes with that is perspective on what actually a CRISIS is and what is a situation that just needs to be dealt with. I often liken my current role as my “professional capstone experience”. I think like most careers in Student Affairs and Higher Education, there is no such thing as a “typical” day. The pace ebbs and flows with the time of the year and with the projects that we are working on. And, not unlike when I worked in residence life, friends (outside of RIT) and family members often ask me “what exactly do you do”? I often think that this is tied directly to the way that I dress for work. The different functions of my role often dictate both how I spend my time and how I dress during that time. I don’t know many other careers that require such a range; typically there is a standard “uniform” or style of dress that is consistent from day to day. Like many others have remarked in this blog series, there is no such thing as a “typical” day.
Some days (and these are the ones that I prefer) you can find me wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a hoodie-these are the days that I am in the lab working with and supporting our students and their activities. Other days you will see me wearing a dress, heels and pearls (i.e. coordinating and attending press conferences and/or meeting with local, regional and state-level politicians and community leaders). I spend almost as much time off campus as I do on campus with students in our production studio, our faculty, and our internal partners, who include, but are not limited to University News Services, Government and Community Relations and the Division of Development Alumni Relations. In the Rochester community I am busy engaging with partners from local game development companies, K-12 schools and other organizations who are interested in collaborating with us, including local game development companies Darkwind Media and Workinman. My reach must be broad, and is both internal and external as we try to expand our network and grow the culture and community of games in Rochester.
Here are a few (ok, more than a few) examples of how I have spent my time recently. I think that they demonstrate well the diverse activities that I am involved with on a day-to-day basis.
- Coordinate (produce!) and star in a four-day video shoot in and around Rochester to announce that we will be the host of the 2016 conference (can’t reveal the name yet-that’s what the video is for). This shoot as well as the conference planning is being done in association with our local CVB, VisitRochester
- Attend “The Strong’s World Video Game Hall of Fame” induction ceremony, hosted by our colleagues and frequent collaborators, the International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG)
- Host 9th grade students from a local charter school who were interested in learning about the game design process
- Attend a Girl Scout Leadership breakfast as well as a 1-day drive in conference at the University at Buffalo, the focus for both of these opportunities was STEM education, outreach and mentorship for girls and young women
- Host guests from Adobe Software’s Experience Design (XD) team who visited campus this May as the sponsors this year’s “New Media Team Project”, a collaborative capstone project for students in the New Media Interactive Development and New Media Design programs at RIT
- Work with a local non-profit agency Cancer Wellness Connections, RIT’s Electronic Gaming Society and RIT Student Wellness to host Fusion Fest ‘15 a video game LAN party to raise awareness for video games as a diversionary activity for people with cancer and to raise money for cancer organizations. Proceeds from Fusion Fest supported the creation of a summer co-op experience for an RIT student, who will work with Cancer Wellness Connections on creating a network and online offerings that will align video gaming with pain-reduction and diversion during chemotherapy treatments
- Attend the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco. While there we hosted a development (fundraising)-centered event along with our Provost and a member of the RIT Board of Trustees. I also gave a tour of the GDC Expo Floor to our Provost to help him better understand how we fit in the games and entertainment community- I think that he learned a lot from his experience!
I have learned so much from this role and it has afforded me many exciting opportunities. I have had the opportunity to visit some incredible places (Pixar and Lucasarts were highlights) and meet some very talented and inspiring people and RIT alumni who have achieved so much in the fields of games and digital media. One of the experiences that has proven to be the most challenging, was also the most meaningful.
This past fall I was given the opportunity to participate in a “Production Studio” course that my supervisor/our Director was teaching. The goal for this course was to make and ship a commercially polished game. In 15 weeks. With 15 students. Which oh-by-the way had never been done before at RIT. My assigned role (and for what my name appears on the credit screen) was marketing and brand specialist. This was a role that I was comfortable with; I knew what to do and how to do it. And while I was ultimately responsible for this too, I spent the majority of my time working with and coaching the students on our team about what it meant to be a member of a team, how to communicate effectively and how to hold each other accountable. These were some very difficult, but important lessons- and I was challenged to help our students learn them. These students are not our typical “student leaders” who actively seek out opportunities to develop their leadership skills. These students signed up for the course because they wanted to make a game; not with a desire to learn about leadership, communication skills, team work and group dynamics. And learn they did! About EVERYTHING that it takes to make a game, including those leadership lessons. I think that if you were to ask the students in the course if they “liked” me during the fall semester, many of them would tell you no. I was hard on them. But they needed me to be, even if they did not recognize it at the time. This was a very new experience for many of them, and I think perhaps one of their most important learning opportunities because their experience mirrored the real world process of what it takes to make and ship a game, on time, on budget and to the satisfaction of their producer as a TEAM.
At the end of the day, our shared value as educators is student success. Whether it is student athletes achieving the highest level of success in their sport, or student leaders, like Resident Advisors and Orientation Assistants who are excelling in their respective leadership roles, there is nothing better than witnessing a student achieve the success that they are seeking- to see them learn by making. When a student hands me a phone, a tablet or a game controller and says with excitement “play this, I MADE it”, it is an incredible feeling. So, I will close with that, and direct you to our website and ask you to play a game (and the process of creating it) that I am incredibly proud of. Splattershmup: A Game of Art and Motion, can be downloaded and played for free. My name is on the credit screen. And that feels really good. The struggle was real, this experience was all about “challenge and support”, but like so many of our most difficult lessons, this was worth it. And I can’t wait to do it again in our fall semester Production Studio course with our next game, which is currently in pre-production.
This post is part of our #dayinSA series on highlighting the diversity of functional areas in the field of student affairs. We will hear from #SApros of all kinds – academic advisors, office mangagers, res hall directors, vice provosts of SA, and many many more. Each will share exactly what their typical day looks like, what exactly they work on, and what makes them want to come to work each day. We hope to squash stereotypes within the field and celebrate all the different kinds of great work that #SApros do. For more information, check out the intro post by Sara Ackerson. Be sure to read the other posts in this series too!