Spark Student Mentored in Video Game Development at the UIC Electronic Visualization Laboratory

June 11th, 2012

Categories: Education

Spark apprentice Elonzo from Dodge Renaissance Academy stands with his UIC/EVL mentors
Spark apprentice Elonzo from Dodge Renaissance Academy stands with his UIC/EVL mentors


June 11, 2012
Spark interest in the workplace and encourage middle-school children from disadvantaged communities to excel in school and pursue their dream jobs. That’s the philosophy behind the national non-profit organization Spark - and when Spark staff learned that 7th grader Elonzo from Dodge Renaissance Academy in Chicago was interested in learning more about creative programming, they arranged to have him attend the UIC Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) for a two-month apprenticeship.

Last week marked the end of this season’s apprenticeship program. Spark hosted Discovery Night, a show-and-tell event in which the students demonstrated their projects to families and friends.

Every Wednesday afternoon for the past two months, Elonzo took the bus to EVL where he worked with EVL computer science professor Andrew Johnson, artist and researcher JD Pirtle, and MS computer science student Arthur Nishimoto to develop an interactive video game. JD and Arthur began by teaching him simple programming techniques using the Processing language, and while Elonzo paid attention, he wasn’t as enthusiastic as they’d hoped.

Not until one afternoon, that is, when JD and Arthur were setting up for the session and happened to observe Elonzo searching online for images from movies like “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th.” As JD recalled, “After a few minutes of Elonzo telling us the minute details of each and every scary horror movie he’d seen and enjoyed, I started making suggestions on how we could make an interactive game that featured characters from these films.”

The resulting game, “Worst Nightmares,” displays a hard-to-find square in a random location on top of a picture from one of the popular movies, and the player must find and click on the square before advancing to the next picture. To create the game, Elonzo learned to program using the Processing language, to download and edit movie pictures from the web, and to create, edit and embed sound effects into the game.

During Discovery Night last week, Elonzo enthusiastically demonstrated his game, with his family, friends, and Andrew and JD in the audience. JD noticed that Elonzo’s younger brother and sister idolized their big brother, and were so very proud of his accomplishment. “When it was time to leave,” JD said, “the younger brother ran up to me, gave me an enthusiastic hug followed by a high five, and then ran off to his family.”

Eager to continue working on interactive video games, Elonzo has been accepted into Spark’s Fall program. And, it probably won’t be long until his younger brother also applies. This is the second time UIC has participated in the program, but the first time for EVL. EVL did offer to host another student in the Fall, as EVL faculty and staff are committed to efforts that promote education, outreach and broader participation.

More information on the Spark program