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USC Games and Take-Two Interactive have selected the first recipients to receive scholarships from a new endowment to fund Black and indigenous students in game design and engineering.
Named after video game pioneer Gerald Lawson, the endowment supports racial equity and inclusion for gaming and tech.
In honor of Black History Month, two students from USC School of Cinematic Arts Interactive Media & Games and Viterbi School of Engineering’s Computer Science were named as the first “Lawson Scholars” under the scholarship program.
“It’s an exciting day at USC Games that we’ve waited a long time for,” said Jim Huntley, professor, head of marketing at USC Games, and the creator of the Gerald A. Lawson Fund for Black and Indigenous Students, in a statement. “We are proud to support our students in creating a more inclusive industry that will continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible in games while bringing attention to one of the Black founding fathers of gaming, Gerald A. Lawson, during such a culturally and historically significant time as Black History Month.”
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The first two scholarships from the Gerald A. Lawson Fund are backed by Take-Two Interactive and Microsoft’s Xbox Games Studios, respectively. USC Games is ranked as Princeton Review’s No. 1 games undergraduate program in North America.
“At Microsoft, we are committed to fostering a more inclusive industry,” said Matt Booty, Head of Xbox Game Studios, in a statement. “We are grateful for USC Games’ efforts to do just that with the Gerald A. Lawson Fund. We believe that providing access to higher education and resources for these students will not only contribute to their personal career endeavors but will also spark growth and advancement within our industry.”
The Microsoft Lawson Scholarship will support a student enrolled in USC’s Interactive Media & Games Division (IMGD) and the Take-Two Interactive Lawson Scholarship will support a student enrolled in the Viterbi School of Engineering’s CS Games Program. (USC isn’t disclosing the names of the recipients at this time).
“We are incredibly proud to be a founding supporter of USC Games’ Gerald A. Lawson Fund, and thrilled to see the inaugural scholarship recipients begin their exciting career pathway into our industry,” said Alan Lewis, vice president of corporate communications & public affairs at Take-Two Interactive, in a statement. “At Take-Two, we believe firmly in the importance of increased diversity, equity, and inclusion in the interactive entertainment industry, and helping to provide access to one of the best universities in the United States is just one of the many ways that we can achieve long-term results and sustainable change.”
The Gerald A. Lawson Fund provides support for students from underrepresented communities who wish to pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees in game design or computer science from USC’s prestigious program. With financial support from game companies such as Take-Two Interactive, Microsoft, and Sony Interactive Entertainment, as well as other donors, USC Games’ vision is to expand the initiative and provide additional support to marginalized communities.
Gerald A. “Jerry” Lawson led the team that invented interchangeable ROM cartridges used in the Fairchild Channel F, one of the early home gaming consoles that predated the Atari 2600. Born in 1940 in Brooklyn, New York, he credited his lifelong interest in science to his first grade teacher, who inspired him with stories about the prolific Black inventor George Washington Carver. Lawson became one of the few Black engineers in the gaming industry during its inception. He also developed the arcade game Demolition Derby and was a member of the legendary “Homebrew Computer Club” whose members also included Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
Lawson passed away in April 2011, and he is being celebrated posthumously for his contributions. A month before he died, he was honored as an industry pioneer by the Interactive Game Developers Association (IGDA). In 2019, he received the [email protected] Gaming Heroes award at the Independent Games Festival, and his contributions are on permanent display at the World Video Game Hall of Fame at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. He is survived by his wife, Catherine, and two adult children, Karen and Anderson, who told his story in High Score, the Netflix documentary series about the developers of early video games.