The Gerald A. Lawson Endowment will support undergraduate and graduate students earning degrees in game design and computer science.

USC Games has announced an endowment fund to financially support and empower minority students in pursuit of video game design and computer science undergraduate and graduate degrees.

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According to the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering website, the school established The Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund for Black and Indigenous Students with the goal of “increasing those groups’ representation in games and tech industries.”

The fund is named for Lawson, who led the team that invented interchangeable ROM cartridges used in the Fairchild Channel F, one of the first home gaming systems.

Lawson’s interest in science and tech was sparked when a first-grade teacher educated him about pioneering Black scientist George Washington Carver. Lawson became one of the few Black engineers in the gaming industry during its inception.

During his career, Lawson 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.

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School of Cinematic Arts, SCI building image via USC Games

Lawson, who passed away in April 2011, received the [email protected] Gaming Heroes award at the Independent Games Festival in 2019. His story is also shared in the Netflix documentary series High Score, according to the memo.

“It’s humbling to publicly announce this fund in the wake of the verdict in Minneapolis since Danny Bilson—the Director of USC Games and Chair of Cinematic Arts’ Interactive Media & Games Division—and I started working on its framework during the racial justice marches in summer 2020,” said USC Interactive Media & Games’ Professor and head of marketing, Jim Huntley.

He led the effort to create the fund.

“We felt strongly that it should honor Mr. Lawson since it will support Black and Indigenous gaming students for generations, and is only made possible with the shared vision and support from Take-Two Interactive.”

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The fund will hopefully garner financial support from additional game and technology companies and donors and help expand USC’s vision to “support other aspects of diversity and equity, including salary support for additional Black and Indigenous faculty as well as labs and projects that addressed issues that affect these marginalized communities.”

Take-Two chairman and CEO Strauss Zelnick, shared pride in being the first industry partner.

“Take-Two is honored to be the first industry partner in USC Games’ Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund,” he said. “We are confident that our shared vision for enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in our industry will be realized through the establishment of this fund and helping to enable students from Black and Indigenous communities to pursue their passions and creative futures in USC’s renowned program.”

He continued, “We believe firmly that one way to ensure diversity and inclusion in both our company and industry is to actively invest in developing diverse voices among those who create authentic, captivating, and engaging entertainment experiences that are reflective of the audiences that enjoy them.”

Degree programs offered by USC Games include four different programs in distinct areas of game design and development. Undergraduate students can choose between earning a Bachelor of Arts in interactive media & games and a Bachelor of Science in computer science with an emphasis in games. Graduate students have the option of a Master of Fine Arts in interactive media & games and a Master of Science in computer science with an emphasis in games.

The school also offers a variety of minors for students interested in adding an expertise in one of the various aspects of games alongside their major field of study.

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Image via Instagram @usc.games

“After a year in the making, USC Games is proud to announce the Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund supporting Black & Indigenous students who wish to pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees in video game design and computer science,” the caption stated. “Special thanks to our seed partner, Take-Two Interactive, for helping us to start the fund!

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Students who are awarded the funds will be known as Lawson Scholars. The initiative will be featured during the program’s annual USC Games Expo on May 15, 2021.

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