Wednesday, July 7, 2010

  • Waterloo undergrads create Games 4 Girls
  • Saudi faculty on campus for CTE workshops
  • What's going on around here: notes
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

Waterloo undergrads create Games 4 Girls

by Claire Tacon

Competition-winning team of CS undergrads.

In kindergarten, Michelle Den Hollander was banned from playing Nintendo. “The character Yoshi was my imaginary friend,” she says. “He told me I didn’t have to do schoolwork.” Fifteen years later, she and four other computer science students have channeled their early love of games into first prize in the 2010 Games 4 Girls competition hosted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The challenge: create a game that will be fun for middle- to high school girls, as judged by a panel of high school students. Waterloo undergrads Claire Andrews, Shanti Mailvaganam, Krista Odger, Alice Hai, and Michelle Den Hollander (from left, above) not only designed the winning entry Alessa in Wonderland but also created the stunning graphics and music. Lori Case served as their faculty advisor. Apart from bragging rights, the team takes home $2,000 for themselves plus a $500 donation to the computer science department.

The game follows Alessa, a shy teen who falls asleep in class one day and finds herself in a witches’ hut a short distance “south-east of Waterloo Castle.” In a twist on the old Super Mario games, a prince has been kidnapped by a “great evil” and the witches need Alessa’s help to rescue him. Through the game’s four levels, players must collect coins and gather resources while battling ogres, killer rabbits and vest-wearing lizards.

To make the game appealing to girls, the team picked a cartoony graphic style and game play that was accessible but challenging. They also scripted the action to show Alessa gaining confidence after each level. “We want to prove that girls should have more confidence in themselves,” Odger explains, “and that they should get out there and do things.” They also purposely avoided making the game a romance. Unlike Mario, when Alessa finally rescues the royal she isn’t rewarded with hearts and happiness. Instead, the prince thanks her with a platonic, “I owe you one.”

The team was assembled in December, at a meeting sponsored by Women in Computer Science, a faculty and alumnae organization created to support women in the field. From formation to final submission, the team had four months to complete the project, on top of juggling a heavy academic load. More than the prize itself, this is what they hope will impress potential employers. “Companies like to hear that you don’t just do your coursework,” says Andrews. “They like to see that you do something extra.” The team’s hard work has already attracted attention from Google, where they were recently invited to demo their award-winning game.

Andrews, an avid gamer, hopes contests like these will spawn more games targeted to women. “Before, there were no female characters in video games,” she says. “Now there are female characters, but they’re fanservice (unrealistic, often hyper-sexualized depictions) so I don’t think it’s gotten much better. Most of the games women tend to play are gender-neutral games, like Civilization, or SimCity.”

Mailvaganam agrees: “A lot of the female games are ‘let’s go shopping!’ They sound girly, but they’re not action games for girls. There’s a big feedback loop of women not playing games, so games are geared towards men, which means fewer women play. We’re hoping that for the girls who get to see it, Alessa in Wonderland gives them the opportunity to say ‘Hey, they made something cool, maybe I can too.’”

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Saudi faculty on campus for CTE workshops

King Saud University buildingTwenty-five faculty members from Saudi Arabia will be visiting our campus for two weeks in July. The visitors, who arrive from King Saud University (KSU, right) on July 12, are participants in an instructional development program developed by the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE).

The first week of the program, entitled Integrating Technologies into Your Teaching, comprises a dozen workshops, including:

  • A Survey of Learning Technologies
  • Blended Learning
  • Assessing Student Learning with Eportfolios
  • Facilitating Online Discussions
  • Creating a Fully Online Course (this workshop is being offered in conjunction with the Centre for Extended Learning)

The program’s second week, entitled Teaching Excellence, also offers a dozen workshops, such as:

  • Course Design Basics
  • Interactive Teaching Activities
  • Developing Rubrics
  • Engaging in Reflective Practice

Donna Ellis, interim director of CTE, notes that “The University of Waterloo has had a Memorandum of Cooperation with KSU since 1999, and we’re confident that this program can be of mutual benefit. We’re looking forward to meeting and working with the KSU faculty members.”

Located in the city of Riyadh, King Saud University was founded in 1957, the same year as our university. KSU employs 5,000 faculty and staff, and has an enrolment of 40,000 students.

Since all CTE staff members will be involved in the instructional program, please note that all CTE offices will be closed the weeks of July 12 and 19.

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What's going on around here: notes

This week, Tuesday through Saturday, the Canadian Undergraduate Mathematics Conference is taking place on campus, with most of the sessions presented in the Arts Lecture Hall. Many of the 150 participants will be staying at Ron Eydt Village. The conference is described as "the largest event of its kind in North America," attracting students from a range of mathematical fields to hear keynote speakers and to present talks of their own. Begun in 1994, the conference is hosted by a different university each year (Waterloo previously hosted it in 1996).

Look for barbecued treats on the BMH green near the Student Life Centre today and Thursday. The University of Waterloo Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) is holding its fourth annual Orphan Relief BBQ from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both days. Profits go toward providing healthcare, education, and shelter for orphans around the world. Organizers hope to raise $2,500, enough to sponsor seven orphans for a year. The MSA started the orphan sponsorship program in 2007. Since then, it has raised $40,000 and has sponsored orphans from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Palestine, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, and Sudan.

Volunteers are needed to be photographic models for a cigarette package health warning labels research study being carried out in the Department of Health Studies and Gerontology. “We are recreating scenes for health warning labels on cigarette packages,” writes grad student Seema Mutti. “Scenes will depict ordinary people with some common health effects associated with smoking (e.g, oral cancer, stroke, emphysema). Photos will be taken on campus, on an evening or weekend day. Time commitment would be a half hour. We are looking for males between the ages of 25 and 50 years that fit one of the following ethnic profiles: Southeast Asian (for labels in India and Bangladesh), or Asian (for labels in China and Korea). Contact Seema Mutti at 519-888-4567, ext. 38549, or by email.

Some recently retired faculty members:

Frances Allard of the kinesiology department retired February 1, 2010. She came to Waterloo in 1975, originally working in the psychology department before moving to kin, and has been a specialist in psychomotor behaviour — how the mind connects to physical action in, for example, hockey players who instantly grasp the complex patterns of action across the ice, or users struggling to work with a new computer. She received a Distinguished Teacher Award in 1983, and continues to draw praise from students: “Definitely still young at heart, she has a great sense of humour,” someone wrote on a ratings site this year.

Jeremy Anglin of psychology retired September 1, 2009, ending a Waterloo career that began in 1976. His research generally involved language and cognitive development in children, though he hit the newspapers in 2004 for a study that found a correlation between physical attractiveness and length of life. The website RateMyProfessors includes many positive comments about his modest teaching style: “Unlike most professors he rarely tries to be humorous and has three-hour lectures but the class is never dull.”

Norman Ball of systems design engineering, who also served as director of the Centre for Society, Technology and Values, retired May 1, 2010. After earning a PhD from the University of Toronto in 1978, he worked on the history of science and technology at several institutions, including a period as chief of research at the National Museum of Science and Technology, before coming to Waterloo, first in civil engineering and later in SDE. He wrote the history of Canadian Niagara Power and of London’s Victoria Hospital, as well as writing on issues such as professional self-regulation.

Two retiree deaths:

From human resources, these notes on the passing of two retirees. Paul Keresztes joined the university in September 1961. He was a professor in the classical studies department, retiring on September 1, 1987. Stefi Cizman died May 30. She came to the university in August 1969 and worked in Village II as a food services assistant. She retired January 1, 1990.

CPA staff

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Emergency communications test this afternoon.

Link of the day

Lucky 7

When and where

Ring road closure between PAS building and Needles Hall has been extended to July 19.

Women’s volleyball “all skills development camp” for girls 12-17, July 5-9, Physical Activities Complex. Details.

‘Be Engaged’ lunch-and-learn presentation for staff about student engagement, Wednesday noon, Arts Lecture Hall room 208. Details.

Swing2Cure charity golf tournament sponsored by Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology, Wednesday 10:00, Rebel Creek Golf Club. Details.

Career workshop: “Work Search Strategies” Wednesday 2:30 p.m., Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.

Matthews Hall elevator shut down Thursday 8 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Farm market Thursday 9 a.m.- 1 p.m., Student Life Centre lower atrium.

The Impact of Canada’s Oil Sands, forum with Marcel Coutu, Waterloo graduate, president of Canadian Oil Sands Limited, sponsored by faculties of engineering and science, Thursday 3:30, CEIT room 1015. Details.

Intercountry Adoption Summit, September, Stratford: call for papers deadline July 9 (negotiable). Details.

The Astronaut Training Process, talk by astronaut candidate Erik Seedhouse, hosted by Waterloo Space Society, July 9, 5-6 p.m., PHY 145.

Image: annual photography show by Waterloo Community Arts Centre, curated by Waterloo fine arts students, July 2-30 at the Button Factory, 25 Regina St. S., Waterloo. Reception Friday July 9, 5-7 p.m., admission free.

St. Jacob's Farmer's Market student trip presented by Eco-Eats, Saturday, 9 a.m., meet at Davis Centre entrance facing Ring Road.

Class enrolment on Quest for fall term courses: students enrolling for the first time, July 12-25; open enrolment begins July 26.

Women’s volleyball “maximum performance positional camp” for girls 15-18, July 12-16, Physical Activities Complex. Details.

Career workshop: “Business Etiquette and Professionalism” Tuesday, July 13, 3:30, Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.

Golf Social sponsored by staff association, Tuesday, July 13, 4:00, Foxwood Country Club. Details.

Career workshop: “Success on the Job”  Wednesday, July 14, 3:30, Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.

Research and Technology Park charity golf tournament (4th annual) Thursday, July 15, Conestoga Golf Club. (Sold out.) Details.

Orchestra @ UWaterloo spring concert July 15 cancelled.

Architecture lecture: Craig Dykers, Snøhetta architects, Norway, Thursday, July 15, 6:30 p.m., Design at Riverside gallery, Architecture building, Cambridge.

Engineering alumni golf tournament Friday, July 16, 4:00, Cambridge Golf Cluib, dinner follows, tickets $30 from Engineering Society office. Details.

University Choir spring concert Friday, July 16, 7:30 p.m., The Cedars, 543 Beechwood Drive, tickets $10 (students $8).

Beyond the Ring lecture series: Peter Smith, “Engineering to Leadership: An Accidental Journey” Monday, July 19, 1:30, Physics room 150.

Job information session for graduating students Tuesday, July 20, 11:30, Arts Lecture Hall room 116. Details.

Job information session for graduating students Thursday, July 22, 3:30, Arts Lecture Hall room 116. Details.

Last day of classes for spring term Wednesday, July 28. (Note: Thursday schedule on July 27, Friday schedule on July 28.)

Positions available

On this week's list from the human resources department:

• Admissions assistant, Registrar's Office, USG 5
• Senior international marketing and recruitment specialist, Registrar's Office (Marketing & Undergraduate Recruitment), USG 10
• Internal secondment opportunity: Research administrative officer, Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, USG 7

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