- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2003

DAYTON, Ohio - Meg Haufe studied business at a community college and worked as a data-entry clerk before deciding to try to turn an obsession of her youth into a career.

The 30-year-old is working toward a bachelor’s degree in video-game design at the Art Institute of California.

“I’ve always wanted to get into the video-game industry. I grew up with them. I play them constantly,” said Miss Haufe, who specializes in developing characters.

Colleges and universities across the nation have developed specialized degree programs to attract new students and exploit changes in the job market.

Sinclair Community College this fall began offering a two-year program in aircraft maintenance to go along with an existing flight-training program. At other schools, students can earn degrees in homeland security and computer security, historic preservation and writing popular fiction.

“We’ve become a much more specialized society,” said Michael Baer, senior vice president of the American Council on Education. “And colleges and universities have tried to be much more responsive to the needs of the work-force market.”

The strategy increases enrollments of students who typically would not attend college.

Shawn McCoy, 27, of Fort Recovery, Ohio, went to work in a forklift factory after graduating from high school because he wasn’t interested in college. He was laid off a few times and now has enrolled in Sinclair’s aircraft maintenance program.

“This industry is getting ready to see dramatic growth again,” said Rex Schlagenhauf, a former military and corporate pilot and assistant professor of aviation technology at Sinclair. He said the airline industry will benefit from baby boomers with disposable income who like to travel.

At the San Diego campus of the Art Institute of California, Christian Bradley, academic director of game art and design, is always concerned that a sudden shift in consumer demand could affect the job prospects of students who graduate in video-game design.

“I’ve got a ton of people holding me responsible for keeping track of this,” he said. “It keeps me up nights.”

The degree program began in January with 57 students. Enrollment had swelled to 122 students when the fall term began Oct. 6.

Students are taught to design and illustrate games, with an emphasis on character animation such as lip movement and muscle flexing. They also play video games to see what makes them fun.

As a player, Miss Haufe, of Knoxville, Tenn., likes fantasy role-playing games such as “Star Wars Galaxy,” “EverQuest” and “Baldur’s Gate.” As a designer, she hopes to land a job with a big company like Sony when she graduates in 2005.

Matthew Musselman, 24, a student from Roanoke, said he expects plenty of opportunities for a job because the industry is growing. “But even if I don’t end up in video games, I still retain the skills to work in special-effects departments or films or cartoons,” he said.

The video-game industry employs about 30,000 people in the United States, with the number of jobs expected to increase by about 5,000 a year, said Jason Della Roca, director of the International Game Developers Association.

Fairmont State Community and Technical College in Fairmont, W.Va., began offering a bachelor’s degree in computer security in August. Courses include network security, vulnerability and code reading, with one of the instructors specializing in detecting hackers and viruses.

“Is this market-driven? A little bit,” said Alicia Kime, coordinator of the computer science department. “If you want to run a [computer] system, you have to have a security expert. There’s a big demand for it.”

Administrators at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pa., hope to help aspiring writers by offering a degree in writing popular fiction.

“Nobody in academia seemed to be teaching people how to write it,” said Lee Tobin McClain, program director. “What we thought about was helping people to write books that they could then try to sell. Most of our students come in wanting to publish.”

The master’s degree program started in 1999 with 13 students and now has 70.

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