Game On

Terrasa Ulm ’99 creates a big-time gaming major at a small liberal arts college

by Christina Barber-Just

Terrasa Ulm
PricewaterhouseCoopers expects the video-game industry, already valued at more than $50 billion worldwide, to close in on the $90 billion mark, leapfrogging both the music and movie industries. With increased demand for video-game designers and developers comes increased demand for schools offering game degrees, and at Becker College—a small liberal arts college in Worcester, Massachusetts—Terrasa Ulm ’99 has stepped up in a big way.
The game-design curriculum she created for Becker is currently ranked fourth in the nation and first in New England by the Princeton Review, besting the likes of MIT, and has the stated goal of becoming the preeminent undergraduate program of its kind in the country.
Ulm studied computer science at Smith and received a master’s degree in interactive programming and design from the New School. In 2004, when she started as an adjunct professor at Becker, she learned that the college wanted to add a game major but didn’t have anyone to do it. Would Ulm be interested? She got to work writing up the proposed curriculum and taught the very first course, “Introduction to Game Design.” The interest from students was immediate, she says; they were “desperate to find an accredited, four-year, ‘normal’ college experience that allowed them not to simply concentrate on gaming but to actually major in it.” The new major was approved, and Ulm was hired as a full-time professor. Today, game design and game development are the fastest-growing academic programs at Becker.
As far as Ulm is concerned, there’s little doubt as to why video games are poised to become the most profitable—and popular—arm of the entertainment industry. “I think most people like to sit back and relax sometimes, allowing the story to be told, but the other half of the time, we want to tell our story, and games allow us to do just that,” she says. “The ability to have interaction and expressive capabilities has made gaming very compelling for almost everyone.”
Spring 2011 SAQ