IGT donation boosts UNR’s computer game program | nnbusinessview.com

IGT donation boosts UNR’s computer game program

John Seelmeyer

For International Game Technology, its $500,000 donation to the College of Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno, is a way to begin growing more of the computer engineers the Reno-based company badly needs.

UNR executives, while acknowledging their role in training a workforce for the region, think the donation from IGT might have significantly bigger implications.

The future of learning at least for some people may be found in sophisticated games, university officials say. Students trained in a new major, computer game studies, may play a role in that developing industry as well as in the business of creating new gaming devices.

Sushil Louis, who heads the Evolutionary Computing Systems Laboratory at UNR, says students are involved in what he calls “serious gaming.” The school, for instance, creates simulations and games that assist the U.S. Navy in training.

The trend of game-based learning is likely to grow, says UNR President Milton Glick.

For IGT, the big cash donation announced last week is intended to jump-start a program to develop new engineers. The company currently has about 120 openings for computer engineers, and its struggles to find engineering talent are slowing its efforts to develop new products, says Jon Wade, IGT’s executive vice president of engineering.

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After the dot-com crash, computer-engineering enrollments nationwide fell dramatically. UNR’s enrollments in computer engineering, for instance, are down by 50 percent in the past four years.

The $500,000 donation from IGT allowed the university to hire two new faculty members to launch the computer-game major. Ted Batchman, dean of the College of Engineering, says the state government is expected to follow with a long-term financial commitment to keep the program afloat.

Similar partnerships between the university and the private sector are important to keep the region’s economy strong, says Chuck Alvey, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.

“It’s not that hard,” he says. “Pick up the phone and talk to each other.”

For IGT and the UNR engineering college, the latest donation marks the continuation of a 12-year partnership that began when the company provided a $1 million endowment that allowed the university to increase its engineering staff, purchase lab equipment and establish a distinguished speaker series.