November, otherwise known as National Scholarship Month, is the ideal time to celebrate the ESA Foundation’s scholarship program, which is helping to ensure higher-ed is not just a pipe dream.

By Anastasia A. Staten

There’s a big elephant in the room. For most, if not all, of us, one major aspect of the American Dream is access to higher education. But for many, that access is simply out of reach.

The average yearly cost for college in the United States is just above $10,000 for in-state institutions and close to $37,000 for private schools. That second number is significant because it’s roughly equal to the median annual income of both African Americans and Hispanic/Latinx. Even if every student attended a state institution – a considerable financial commitment, at that – college is not a viable option for many families across the country.

That’s one reason, 21 years ago, the nonprofit Scholarship America established November as National Scholarship Month—to draw attention to this massive gap. It’s also why, in 2007, the ESA Foundation began awarding minority and female undergraduate students scholarships. Our aim was, and still is, to support those underrepresented students who have a true passion for video games and a desire to attend college while providing the industry with a diverse pipeline of future game creators.

Over the past dozen years, we’ve awarded close to 400 scholarships to students across the country. And we provide more than just funding: we offer networking, professional-development, access to internships and behind-the-scenes opportunities as well.

So it was truly exciting, this fall, to announce our latest class of Computer and Video Game Arts Scholarship winners. This year’s 36 recipients attend 24 colleges and universities across 18 states. And for the first time ever, we also awarded a new scholarship opportunity to three students who’ve demonstrated extraordinary service to the LGBTQ+ community.

This well-rounded group of scholars, studying all facets of game design, will continue to innovate and expand the video game industry’s unparalleled ability to tell engaging stories that connect millions to new worlds through their play.

We’ve already seen proof that the ESA Foundation’s support pays off. Recently, I had the chance to hear from two previous scholarship recipients now well-established in the industry.

Caitlyn Kenney, a 3D modeler at Ubisoft Montreal, told me: “To start, this scholarship helped me out financially. I’m from a very big family, so I relied on loans and scholarships to pay for my education. The problem was, I had a hard time finding scholarships for students pursuing a career in games. When I stumbled upon the ESA scholarship, and then actually got it, it was a great feeling both financially and in a validating sort of way—my career choice does have merit.”

Liz Fiacco, a game designer who’s run her own company and served as level designer for titles such as “Uncharted 4” and “The Last of Us II,” had this to say: “Receiving the scholarship encouraged me to consider video games as a viable career, as well as keep me enrolled in classes that inspired my interest in it. It also helped me graduate without debt, which was a huge benefit to my career, where I could spend the months after graduating working on a Kickstarter game project, and buying me the time I needed to start my studio career.”

I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank our generous supporters, the ESA members whose contributions make these scholarships possible. But I’d also like to pass along that, being executive director of the foundation for three years now, it’s exciting to see my first group of incoming freshmen become seniors. As I’ve watched them mature, learn their trades and meet so many members of the industry who serve as guides and mentors, I’m reminded just how instrumental our scholarship program is in their pursuit of fulfilling, exciting careers across the industry.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate National Scholarship Month than to witness their journeys and welcome them to the industry.

Anastasia A. Staten

Anastasia A. Staten is executive director of the ESA Foundation, which, aside from providing scholarships to the next generation of industry innovators, supports charitable organizations and schools leveraging interactive entertainment technology to create meaningful opportunities for America’s youth and demonstrating the social impact of video games.

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