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Conferences help faculty stay “on the right track”

March 31, 2017

Professional conferences are an opportunity for career development for university professors.

Attending conferences “inspires my work by providing new insights into all aspects of game design and development,” said Dr. Jeff Howard, associate professor of game design.

This inspiration is especially true with the GDC Game Developer's Conference (GDC), which Howard attended in early March. GDC is “the most prestigious and recognized conference for game designers and developers in the world,” he said. Associate professor Steve Graham also attended.

Howard also gave a talk at the conference. “By presenting at a conference, I am able to open the way to more conversations than I would if I were only attending.” The title of his presentation was “Force and Fire: Making your Game More Metal,” discussing how heavy metal music can inspire a game’s narrative, or storyline.

Some of his previous work was cited by another speaker, Leszek Szczepanski, who used quotes from Howard’s book “Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives” in his own presentation. Szczepanski is the lead gameplay programmer of the role-playing game “Horizon: Zero Dawn.”

The insights and source material discussed at conferences are brought back to campus, where they benefit the students in their classrooms. “GDC keeps me current on the most recent ideas, methods, and technologies in the field of game design and development,” Howard said.

The events also provide an opportunity for networking, he added. These professional connections help bring “top-notch speakers” to campus for DSU events like IDiG (Integtrated Design in Games) and Nanocon, the gaming convention held on campus each November.  

The same is true for other departments on the DSU campus.

“By joining a community of fellow researchers in our field, we are more inspired to do our work and do it well, knowing we are on the right track,” said Dakota State University English professor John Nelson.

He and colleague Dr. Stacey Berry presented on two projects at a recent conference, the Digital Humanities Symposium in Utah.

“Too often, our work at a small, rural university can begin to feel isolated,” said Nelson. “In presenting our materials and discussing our work with other attendees, we understand better…how we can enhance and improve our own work.”

Berry said, “these opportunities remind me that DSU's English for New Media program is keeping our course offerings and our research work on the cutting edge.”

A conference discussion about interfaces a few years ago inspired her to create a course which explored the use of web and text markup languages, maps, databases, and applications as sites of literary criticism. She taught the class for the first time in the fall of 2016.

Conference work can lead to opportunities to share work outside the classroom as well. In 2016, Dr. Ben Jones, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, organized a panel at the annual conference of the Society of Military History. The panel’s topic was the war in Afghanistan. One of Jones’ colleagues, Aaron O’Connell, published the works from that discussion in a book, “Our Latest Longest War:  Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan.” Published by the University of Chicago Press, it will be released on March 31. Jones’ contribution, "Leaving Afghanistan” is Chapter 9.

Conferences can also help staff members with professional development. Kacie Fodness, director of sponsored programs, has been selected as a panelist at the American Literature Association 28th annual conference held in Boston in May. This panel is sponsored by the Melville Society, and will focus on works by the 19th century author Herman Melville, who is one of her favorite authors.

Fodness has also been chosen to be on a conference writing team. This small group of Ph.D. students from around the country will attend the conference sessions, then write a collaborative article for “The Year in Conferences,” a feature of “ESQ (Emerson Society Quarterly): A Journal of Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture.” Fodness is an English doctoral student at the University of South Dakota, in addition to her full-time job at DSU.

Classic literature is not precisely the style of writing she uses with the sponsored programs department, but Fodness said “I consider myself a student of writing,” and her doctoral studies and conference participation represent another genre, offering her a “chance to practice something new,” and “a chance to be inspired.”