Faculty Profile: Jim Whitehead - At the Top of His Game

Faculty Profile: Jim Whitehead - At the Top of His Game
Faculty Profile: Jim Whitehead - At the Top of His Game
Thursday, July 13, 2006

Associate Professor Jim Whitehead is at the top of his game ' pun very much intended. Within the last month, he has achieved two major career milestones: he was awarded tenure in June, followed shortly by the approval of the new UC Santa Cruz game design major.

Along with Professor Ira Pohl, chair of Computer Science, Jim has been championing the creation of a game design major for about a year and half, culminating in its final approval on June 15, 2006. (Please see related story for more information, or visit http://tinyurl.com/ratzh . The major will be the first of its kind in the UC system, and will be one of the few existing programs in the Bay Area and even in the US as a whole.

Despite already having been interviewed multiple times this week, Jim's enthusiasm is both palpable and contagious. One of the most exciting aspects of the major will be the addition of Michael Mateas, designer of the interactive video game Fa'e, to the CS faculty. Mateas is coming to UCSC from Georgia Tech, and his achievements have already earned him national recognition, with interviews in such prominent publications as the Economist, the New York Times, and Newsweek. Jim anticipates that Mateas' presence at UCSC will go far to attract students to the new major.

So far, it seems that the new program won't need much help in attracting applicants. Jim's existing game design classes have been very popular, and many students have already expressed interest in the new program. In time, Jim hopes that the program will prove popular enough to provide a significant boost to undergraduate enrollment rates at the Baskin School.

Despite what its popularity may indicate, however, Jim stresses the fact that the new major is not all fun and games - literally. It is also everything from physics to art to economics, and generally a lot of hard work. Students returning as juniors this fall can declare gaming design as their major, and in two years, this class will be the first to complete the three-quarter capstone course in which they will design and produce a full-fledged video game. While the concept of a major in computer game design may sound frivolous to some, the capstone course is the culmination of what the proposal itself describes as a 'technically deep and rigorous' sequence of computer science courses that make up the core of the major. This foundation is then supplemented by interdisciplinary material from such diverse areas as physics, art, and yes, even economics.

Overall, the gaming design major presents an exciting new challenge for the Baskin School of Engineering. We hope that Jim's career continues with equal success as he helps the Baskin School embark on this new enterprise. Congratulations, Jim, and best of luck to you!

For more information, please see Jim's homepage: http://www.cs.ucsc.edu/~ejw/