In 2021, Unity funded a multi-year, $300,000 grant partnership with Spelman College to build a gaming degree program and support Spelman’s Innovation Lab. Then, in 2022, with support from Unity, I became the first Expert in Residence (EIR) in Atlanta to launch a pilot program aimed at underrepresented creators.
The goal of the newly established program is to continue to build on Unity’s partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs).
During my residency, I formed an internal council of stakeholders across the company who invested time in helping to create new opportunities for participants. I also had the chance to meet with faculty from various HBCU and MSI departments, demonstrate tools, provide guidance and resources to students, and give workshops on topics ranging from real-time 3D (RT3D) use cases for research to career paths for students.
Through my work with HBCUs, I continue to be blown away by student and faculty dedication to making the world better and creating more opportunities and pathways to careers that will directly impact how diversity is approached globally.
It is one of the biggest highlights of my career to be able to create a program that expands inclusion in gaming and immersive experiences. As I reflect on the past year – especially during Black History Month – here are just a few things I’ve learned that were critical to the successful execution of this pilot program.
This work requires investment from leaders within the community, as well as from the industry, so that the two can come together at one table to meet the needs of students and faculty. During the program, I built relationships and established partnerships with nonprofit organizations, government officials, and entrepreneurs, all of whom were dedicated to using emerging technology for economic development. This was helpful in developing success metrics focused on career pathways for students.
As a result of this work, I was honored as an inaugural Champion of the Metaverse by the US Black Engineer (USBE) Information Technology magazine. The Black Engineer of the Year Awards honor leaders in various engineering disciplines for their technical contributions and advocacy for STEM education in the community.
Only 2% of game professionals are Black, and it was critical to understand the systemic issues that contribute to the underrepresentation of people of color in the games industry. Part of that research included looking at the history of STEM education and where opportunities to break into the industry lie. Understanding game engine technology and its use cases is also essential to the future of work, particularly in entertainment.
Sharing that message with the technology community at large is important, and the AFROTECH Conference was a perfect place to continue highlighting the intersection of real-time technology and cultural creativity.
It was exciting to have Black technologists from around the world attend our Real-Time 3D is the Future panel at AFROTECH. During the panel, we discussed the power of computer graphics and creative tools like SpeedTree and Ziva. We also talked about the significance of technology history by acknowledging the contributions of Black scientists and inventors in the video game industry who have helped make technologies like game engines possible. Being able to connect the dots between STEM education – particularly in art and engineering – to the software that we develop helps demystify the myriad ways you can build a career in the games industry.
Creating a strategy to do work like this has to include multi-threaded efforts across teams internally at Unity, including Education, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), Social Impact, Inclusion and Diversity, Marketing, Recruiting, and Product Advocacy. Through building this village, we can establish programs that leverage Unity products for future creator success and open the door to new opportunities for our creative communities around the world.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to check in often with both your industry and community collaborators. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this kind of work. By listening to your users and actively sharing their feedback, you can create a custom program that meets the needs of students and faculty while helping shape inclusive product design and software development.
Although the pilot program is complete, many colleagues within Unity and the broader games industry have reached out to learn how to keep the momentum going. We hope that this EIR model can be replicated with future initiatives; however, whether you’re a Unity employee or not, you can keep up with everything Spelman is doing with our grant by following the Spelman Innovation Lab online.
An exciting event coming up soon is Spelman’s HBCU Game Jam, which is being held in Atlanta from February 24–26.