Computer Game Design, Music, & STEM: Introducing GMU’s Scott Martin


Scott Martin, GMU

It’s safe to say Scott Martin is one busy individual. At George Mason University (GMU), he is Director of Computer Game Design, Associate Professor of Game Design, Music Composition and Game Entrepreneurship, and Assistant Dean for Technology, Research and Advancement. He is also the Founding Director of the Serious Game Institute at Mason. His areas of research include interactive performance systems, serious games development for corporate and public crisis management, game design for telemedicine and teletherapy, and game education pedagogical systems and structures.

Martin doubled majored as an undergraduate in audio engineering/EE and Music Composition at Johns Hopkins University, where he also attained his Master of Music degree from the Peabody Conservatory of Music. He earned his Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Maryland. As a musician, he spreads this talent by teaching piano to his three sons (when he’s not busy being their football coach).

But he’s also a proponent of STEM, and turning it into STE’A’M where the arts are the core. STEM is the acronym for education/research in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math.

You might be wondering what drove Martin to this interest in STEM/STE’A’M education and research, but he says he has read “study after study” which shows that without STEM education, “secondary students employability and career advancement greatly diminishes.” And he distinguishes himself from other art advocates by saying he doesn’t believe it will just work to add “arts to the list.”

“I’m an advocate of putting STEM into the ‘A,’” said Martin. “Updating the arts, integrating the arts with technological problem solving, enhancing critical thinking through technology, and technological creativity.”

As I heard our new President say recently, we don’t need to graduate another 10 engineers, we need to graduate another 10 creative (problem solving) engineers.”


So what does Martin think is the critical STEM subject? Computer Game Design.

“In my humble opinion, [it is]the penultimate STEM subject, as it integrates, actually requires the integration of all the STE‘A’M core competencies in a project based, team based curriculum to succeed,” Martin said. “It is one of most transformational areas of study in higher education today, where students study both the sciences and the arts, all in a revolving-role team-based, project-based new pedagogical environment.

Our undergraduate students study calculus, physics, programming, technology, production, writing, design, business, visual arts, modeling and animation, and sound/music; a truly left & right brain educational experience. Sound familiar? Our students are prepared to enter many professional STEM fields, but also to forge new ones, as Computer Game Design is becoming ubiquitous in our daily lives, from medical therapy, treatment, telemedicine, corporate and military training, crisis management, public policy, corporate management, and yes, in K-12 STEM education.”

But it begs asking, in STEM education, if there are one, better programs, and two, if a sort of gender bifurcation exists in terms of the number of boys or girls who pursue it in their education. Elizabeth Vandenburg, a STEM Outreach Consultant and Co-Lead of Mid-Atlantic Girls Collaborative (MAGiC) who spoke with WashingtonExec recently, called girls an “untapped resource” in STEM. Martin agrees.

“I see the same issues in higher education every time I walk through our engineering building,” said Martin. “And I agree with Elizabeth that STEM exposure needs to begin the younger the better, with increased role models and mentoring. That said, also what I said prior, about alternative vehicles as a way to introduce and engage STEM subjects for girls should also be considered as one pathway.

In the four years the Computer Game Design Program has existed, I’ve seen an impressive increase of female applicants and majors, for a variety of reasons, but direct recruitment efforts and changing demographics in the serious games and entertainment game fields, a maturing of the industry, if you will, has made a huge difference for us. In fact, we are planning a conference in the Fall of 2013 at Mason, draft titled “Women in Games” to explore these issues, and STEM subjects’ exposure and retention will be a core track in the conference.”

As far as other programs out there, Advanced Placement (AP) courses and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs have been around for awhile, though the latter is still relatively new in comparison. Does STEM hold an advantage over these courses? Martin says he would advocate AP STEM, and knows this isn’t a popular approach.

“I know many colleagues will disagree with me on this topic, but I would strongly recommend secondary students focus strategically on AP STEM courses in their curriculum,” Martin said. “IB courses and the IB Diploma are still relatively new compared to the AP curriculum.


Admission officers of universities may not question the difference, but Chairs and Directors of STEM majors and programs (like math, chemistry, physics, engineering, etc.) in high education will. Secondary students have a much greater chance of receiving college credit with AP courses, as their rigor, syllabus, and academic achievements are well known and respected by university faculty.”

So not only is it important to raise awareness on STEM, but working to get students to take an interest in the subject itself requires some thought.

“As you would guess, telling a child to study science or technology in preparation for higher education and the STEM workforce who has an interest in theater or literature won’t work, in most cases,” Martin said. “Discovering a different non-watered down pathway to the same mean, might.

Designing the next “Write Something” app with a friend or two, or learning digital character development, or CAD Stage design might be the right vehicles for some students to enter and remain in traditional STEM fields of study if their original goals can still be had.”

The same goes for adults, specifically in our case of readers, government executives, who may not run across STEM in their day to day work. Why then, should they start to care about the topic? Martin says it all comes down to support for employers.

“Obviously one of the primary focuses and missions of the university should be to provide highly qualified graduates to support the employers of the region,” Martin said. “High technology, certainly in government contracting, is critically important and Mason’s adopted mission as well is to provide that.

Without STEM education and STEM fields supported by the university on many, many levels, that won’t happen. We won’t be able to meet those employee demands.”

And Martin has had his fair share of working with tech businesses where seminars are concerned.

“We are working with both for profit and nonprofit companies in the region to provide not just internships for students, but also employment,” Martin said. “We also partner with them on applied research. For instance, we are working this semester and the beginning of next semester with Century Council, a nonprofit arm of the Century Council lobbying group for the spirits industry.

Last semester we had five student teams in our mobile applications development, game applications development. We are now on four or five games this semester and the Century Council will be publishing those on the iTunes and Google Play stores and distributing them nationwide as well.”

As far as future projects go, Martin says he is really excited about the initiative with the Fairfax County Public School System and in the future, the Prince William County School System.

“We are very excited about potential support from the legislature to expand education STEM development across the K-12 curriculum across the state of Virginia,” Martin said. “We have an education games development teacher certificate program coming online in a couple of months that will start this summer. We would love to expand that across the state because I think STEM education and the importance of STEM starts in junior high and high school.

I think that will be the nexus that will really prepare students in the future in these fields in our region, and not just for our state but for our nation.”

The Computer Game Design Program at Mason is one of most transformational areas of study in higher education today, where students study both the sciences and the arts, all in a revolving-role team-based, project-based new pedagogical environment. The Computer Game Design Program hosts a BFA undergraduate degree, a future graduate MA degree, several minors with sports management and business, multiple international exchange partnerships, and host the only U.S. Serious Game Institute (in partnership with the University of Coventry U.K.), that concentrates on game-related applied research and new innovative game company cultivation.



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