#PrepareAtPeace: WPU Simulation and Game Design Student, Jennifer Thomas, Takes on Ubisoft Internship

March 7, 2017
WPU student tests simulation and game design equipment.

For anyone who has ever stepped foot into WPU’s Simulation and Game Design lab, it’s obvious that making games isn’t just fun – it’s a serious business.  And no one knows that better than WPU senior, Jennifer Thomas, who has just landed an incredible internship with a huge name in the video game industry – Red Storm Entertainment.

Thomas worked for six months, coordinating and communicating with various Red Storm employees to get an interview, which finally led to her internship. Red Storm, a subsidiary of video game producing parent company, Ubisoft, doesn’t usually hire college interns to work at its Cary headquarters. However, it was obvious when Thomas started that she was much more knowledgeable and prepared than her coworkers had expected, something she attributes to her SGD classes at WPU.

“They were surprised by the number of software programs I knew, because most of their other interns don’t.”

As an intern for Red Storm, Thomas’ main job is to take on any tasks that members of her team need help with. Whether it’s designing environment art or tweaking the user interface, which is how the user interacts with the game, she takes the project head-on. Because of Thomas’ broad knowledge of the software programs that are used in the game design industry, she can easily learn how to do most tasks that are assigned to her while on the job, even if she’s never done them before.

Thomas’ time at work is spread across the different departments at Red Storm, where she shadows employees in their varying roles as they design their individual pieces of a much larger project. For example, she worked with an environment and weapons artist for two weeks as they designed procedural textures for a game and the following week she worked with a senior user interface designer.

“I had two or three interviews before I got this internship,” Thomas said. “They were surprised by the number of software programs I knew,

SGD student, Jennifer Thomas, shows off her design of a medieval structure.

because most of their interns don’t. Their interns haven’t learned the software yet and team members can’t really take the time to teach that, because they’re busy themselves.”

Designing things like textures, environments, and buildings for games is not only a highly creative skill, but a highly technical one that requires hours of tedious work behind an array of professional software programs. Thomas cites her professors and her classes in the SGD major as reasons she’s become so well-versed with the different design programs, an asset that has made her very marketable.

Thomas, locked in and focused, works on one of her many designs.

“I don’t think I would have learned the software as well on my own,” Thomas said, when asked about honing in on her skills. “I’m a motivated person but I think we’re all a little lazy at times, especially students,” she chuckled. “Here at Peace, there’s a bunch of software that we learn and Justin Johnson, one of the professors here, was helping me learn extra skills, which helped me at Red Storm.”

In speaking with Thomas, it’s clear that she earned her position at Red Storm not only with her design skills, but also her initiative. Acquiring a position that doesn’t exist takes a lot of drive and perseverance. It all started when Thomas contacted Girls Make Games, a California-based company that runs international summer camps for young girls who are interested in the art of video game design. Being a female game designer herself,  Thomas reached out to the company with the hopes of becoming a volunteer.

“I just wanted to be a volunteer,” Thomas explained. “And then I met with them on Skype and they told me that they had a position, so then I applied and got a job as a counselor. And then, the next day, after getting the position, they asked me to run the camp,” she said. “So for our field trip, the camp went to Red Storm for a female empowerment event where they had different women from different departments come and talk about what they did. After that I was talking to a user interface artist there for like an hour and she told me, ‘you have to intern here.'”

“Students like Jen will make a big impact and demonstrate the importance of diversity. Earning an internship at Redstorm is a great opportunity.”

Jennifer isn’t just a video game maker – she’s a pioneer. She’s a part of a very small subset of women within a mostly male-dominated field. Thomas was the only female student in her high school coding classes. She laughs about having her own corner in the room where she would often get strange looks for being the only female coding student.

“Growing up I didn’t necessarily get a lot of criticism, but people almost thought that I couldn’t do it [game design] or that it was strange that I was,” she said. “And so I always felt like there was this extra thing to prove myself. And here [at WPU], it’s completely different, because there are more female students, but even in our major it’s still mostly males.”

It’s no secret that the game design industry is mostly male-dominated, despite the exponential increase in female gamers over the past couple of decades. According to the Girls Make Games website, female gamers – females who play video games – make up a whopping 47% of all gamers. Adversely, however, females only make up 12% of video game designers. That means that nearly one half of all game consumers are being represented by only 12% of their gender in the design of the games they play. It’s this need for diversity in game design that makes WPU SGD professor, Justin Johnson, proud of the University’s diverse student population and what it means for the industry as a whole.

“WPU’s SGD program is very diverse and is contributing to the growing diversity of the game industry,” Johnson said. “Students like Jen will make a big impact and demonstrate the importance of diversity. Earning an internship at Redstorm is a great opportunity. Jen has been a great student and her years of hard work have paid off.”

Thomas hopes her Red Storm internship could potentially lead to a full-time job after she graduates from WPU. Her skills and persistence are proof that no matter what she sets her mind to, she can do it.

For more news and feature stories, search #PrepareAtPeace on social media, or visit www.peace.edu/news.

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