LOS ANGELES – USC Games, ranked as Princeton Review’s #1 Games Program in North America in 2021, announced the establishment of The Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund for Black and Indigenous Students, with the goal of increasing those groups’ representation in games and tech industries.
Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc., a global industry-leading developer, publisher, and marketer of interactive entertainment made a significant seed contribution to establishing the Lawson Fund for student support. The Fund will provide student support for Black and Indigenous students who wish to pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees in game design or computer science from USC's prestigious program.
With financial support from additional game and technology companies and donors, USC Games’ vision is to expand the initiative and 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. Student recipients of the funds will be known as "Lawson Scholars" and the initiative will be featured during the program’s annual USC Games Expo on May 15th, 2021 at 12 p.m. PST, viewable on www.uscgamesexpo.com.
“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, who led the Lawson Fund’s creation. “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.”
Take-Two Interactive, publisher and developer of such renowned and successful franchises as Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, NBA 2K, BioShock, Borderlands, and Sid Meier's Civilization, has a proud history of commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, including supporting such organizations as After-School All-Stars, The Animation Project, Black Girls Code, ESA Foundation, Gameheads, Games for Change, Gay Gaming Professionals, Girls Make Games, Hidden Genius Project, and School of Interactive Arts.
In addition, The Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund marks the Company's second collegiate scholarship program dedicated to advancing diversity and inclusion within the industry, joining Take-Two's MFA in Game Design scholarship program with New York University's Tisch School of the Arts that was established in 2019.
“Take-Two is honored to be the first industry partner in USC Games’ Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund,” said Strauss Zelnick, Chairman and CEO of Take-Two. “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. 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.”
Gerald A. “Jerry” Lawson led the team that invented interchangeable ROM cartridges used in the Fairchild Channel F, one of the early home gaming consoles that pre-dated the Atari 2600. Born in 1940 in Brooklyn, New York, he credited his lifelong interest in science to his first-grade teacher, who inspired him with stories about the prolific Black inventor George Washington Carver. Mr. Lawson became one of the few Black engineers in the gaming industry during its inception when he also 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.
Mr. Lawson, who passed away in April 2011, is posthumously being celebrated for his contributions. A month before he died, he was honored as an industry pioneer by the Interactive Game Developers Association (IGDA). In 2019, he received the ID@Xbox Gaming Heroes award at the Independent Games Festival, and his contributions are on permanent display at the World Video Game Hall of Fame at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. He is survived by his wife, Catherine, and two adult children, Karen and Anderson, who told his story in High Score, the Netflix documentary series about the developers of early video games.
Returns from the Endowment will support qualifying graduate and undergraduate games program students in both the School of Cinematic Arts and the Viterbi School of Engineering, beginning in the Fall 2022 semester. Donations to the Fund will be ongoing.
“We’d like to get as many donors on board at the Fund’s outset, to positively impact as many incoming 2022 students as we can,” Huntley explained. “We’re eternally grateful to Take-Two for being the first company on board and are looking forward to working with more trailblazers like them: companies committed to improving Black and Indigenous representation in games and tech.”
This press release was originally published on May 6, 2021, on GamesPress. It has been edited for length, clarity, grammar, readability, and Associated Press Style.