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Thadchayani Kupendiran always thought there might be something unique about her interest in computer games. “Other kids would always look at me strange when I said I wanted to get into gaming. Even my parents thought I may pursue something like medicine or engineering,” she said. “It isn’t a career choice that people would usually expect, especially for girls, but I love proving people wrong.”
And that’s exactly what she’s doing. Despite the fewer opportunities for Canadian students, and particularly females, to learn and pursue careers in technology, programming and the computer sciences, Kupendiran is one of several promising young students from area schools to take advantage of the Kids Game Development Camp at York University. The camp is funded by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), a technology development company specializing in computer processors and related technologies.
Thadchayani Kupendiran (left) mentors a young camper at the Kids Game Development Camp
To combat the lagging technical skill set and shrinking world of social and educational opportunity for low-income students, researchers from York, in partnership with AMD, established the summer camp for primary- and secondary-level students as a research project and opportunity for training in computer programming and game development. With a particular focus on girls like Kupendiran, the camp offers participants an opportunity to gain useful skills and knowledge, to mentor and be mentored, and develop their overall confidence and technical skills.
The camp allows young students the chance to construct their own computer games from start to finish, tapping into their creativity while giving them hands-on training in the most basic of technical computer skills. The camp is facilitated through the help of emerging peer mentors and volunteer leaders who have participated in the camp in previous years, who provide fundamental instruction to the campers.
The Kids Game Development Camp also has wider implications for research at York University, said Jennifer Jenson, a game researcher and professor in York University’s Faculty of Education. “Through the technology provided by AMD as part of the camp, we’ve been able to delve into the nature of digital gaming as an educational tool and how to best engage youth with technology,” she said. “This is particularly important for our female campers, who often shy away from an interest in technology to this degree.” In fact, now that the camp has completed three successful years with the specific focus of engaging females, it’s been shown that girls actually perform better and are more willing to express opinions and ideas when the groups are separated by gender.
Kupendiran’s experience demonstrates just how valuable the camp has been to both the campers and the mentors. “Not only did the game-building activities allow me to develop my computer skills early on, but the camp has also allowed me to become a leader for other students like me who want to learn and work with computer games. The campers look up to me as an example of what they can accomplish, so I try to live up to those expectations as we work together to build new games and ideas each day. It’s a huge responsibility but also a valuable opportunity!”
With all that she’s been able to do through York University’s Kids Game Development Camp, there is no telling what the future holds for Kupendiran. She’s already participated in a showcase run through Dames Making Games, an organization dedicated to providing a community where women can connect and share their digital gaming creations with like-minded individuals. This fall, she starts an advanced diploma program in game programming at Toronto’s George Brown College, which will help her to further her already impressive skills. But what she really wants is more experience.
“I hope to use my spare time during school to intern with a prominent computer technology company and really put my passion to work with some practical experience. The AMD camp was a rare chance for girls like me to realize a passion for gaming and pursue what I love, boosting me up farther than I could have ever have imagined. I now have the skills, confidence and determination to pursue my dream job.”