Mason Game & Technology Academy Staff
(listed in alphabetical order)
MGTA Administrative Assistant
Nerissa Hart serves as the Administrative Assistant for the Mason Game and Technology Academy. Nerissa helps to keep instructors in constant communication with one another, coordinate class schedules, run attendance and make sure that classes run smoothly overall within MGTA. Additionally, she has worked capturing marketing photography for MGTA classes and outreach programs. Nerissa graduated from George Mason University’s School of Theatre with a BFA in Performance for the Stage and Screen and has used the experience she gained from Mason to begin writing in the world of video games. With her passion for writing, performance, directing and video game design, she also began working as part of the Social Media Marketing and Story Writing Team for the start-up game design company, Wyvern Interactive. She hopes to continue pursuing her passions for performance and writing through video games and hopes to help kids with similar passions to do the same.
MGTA Founding Director
Vera Lichtenberg, Assistant Director at Potomac, is the co-founder and Director of the Mason Game & Technology Academy (MGTA). She works closely with Mason Game Design Program faculty to develop courses and curriculum for K-12 students, to design teacher training programs for Middle and High School teachers, and to facilitate partnerships with local schools, community programs, and industry professionals.
MGTA was honored with a 2015 Business Partnership of the Year Award by the Prince William County School System, for innovative school partnerships that provided student workshops and teacher training in Game Design and programming. In 2015, Vera was a finalist in the Small Business / Entrepreneur category for the 16th Annual Women in Technology (WIT) Leadership Awards.
Vera brings to MGTA multiple established relationships in the mid-Atlantic region’s technology, arts, philanthropic, and public and private education communities. She has over fifteen years of administrative and managerial experience developing major new organizations, building strategic and tactical partnerships, and managing multiple cutting-edge national and international projects. Her professional activities include several years designing and coordinating international training programs and policy briefings for the International Research & Exchanges Board, in conjunction with multiple U.S. government agencies including USAID, USIA, and the U.S. Department of State.
Mason Game & Technology Academy Faculty
(listed in alphabetical order)
Kyle Bishop, Chief Executive Officer of Little Arms Studios, has 6 years experience developing video games and simulations as a programmer, designer, and project manager. Bishop is currently developing a training simulation for Fairfax County Fire and Rescue as the lead programmer. He is leading small indie team to develop a new game, Project Duck and Cover, and frequently participates in events such as Jamtech to teach students how to develop video games. Bishop earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Computer Game Design at George Mason University.
William has spent many years behind a keyboard writing and debugging code in an academic setting. Recently in the last three years he has discovered a hidden talent of shaping young minds through instructing programming in after school and summer courses. When not teaching, William is a student in the Computer Science department at George Mason University. You can also find him at Professions Quest either breaking or fixing code. http://www.ProfessionsQuest.com/
James has over 12 years of experience developing video games. He has extensive knowledge in the production and live management of games working on titles from Mythic Entertainment, Bioware, EA, and EA Mobile. James worked in a number of roles including customer service, design, content lead, and producer. The majority of his tenure in the industry was in the producer role with production experience on Live and in-development titles. His portfolio of work includes such PC titles as Dark Age of Camelot, Ultima Online, Imperator Online, Warhammer Online: Age of Chaos, Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes as well as the mobile titles Ultima Forever and Dungeon Keeper. As well, James worked on a number of prototype projects and co-development titles for the studio and helped to lead the transition to mobile for the studio. He’s earned his Master and Bachelor degrees in Business Administration as well as a creative writing minor.
Josh, a graduate of the Mason Computer Game Design Program, has always been passionate about Art and Game Design. Throughout his studies at Mason, he has been part of multiple game projects, including a Prohibition App called “Onward” for the Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence, and a side scrolling adventure game called Marauder’s Coast. He is also an intern at Pixabits studios, where he has created 2D art assets for their most recent project, “That Frog”.
Also during his studies at Mason, he became part of a startup company, Wyvern Interactive, and is now an artist for this company. Wyvern will soon be releasing a mobile game by the name of Aion. http://www.wyverninteractive.com/
Josh also loves to share his knowledge with students and has taught multiple courses for the Mason Game & Technology Academy (MGTA), including Art & Animation, 3D Game Design, and Minecraft modding.
Alex Estep, Art Director at Little Arms Studios, graduated from George Mason University with a BFA in Computer Game Design, May 2013. Since then he’s worked as a web developer for GMU Game Design and the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, freelance game artist for e4 Software and Pie for Breakfast Studios, and art director for Little Arms Studios. He has experience in 2D and 3D artwork creating models, textures, animations, and concept art for various games and simulators such as I.V.I.S., Dead Man’s Trail, and Duck & Cover.
Andrew Griffith is a graduate of George Mason University with a BFA in Computer Game Design, and a MS in Business Management. Andrew has always had a passion games and business, and is currently the Chief Operating Officer for ADT Productions, LLC, a company which he helped form. He is one of the original teachers hired at the beginning of the MGTA’s life cycle, and has taught a variety of subjects including Introduction to Game Design, 3D Game Design, Mobile App Development. He specializes in our Modding Minecraft classes, where his enthusiasm is unparalleled. Andrew has also worked in a variety of professions, and this has given him a variety of skill sets which includes web design, coding, graphic design, digital marketing, and copy writing. There is nothing he cares more about than his students, and he loves to create a terrific learning environment that not only engages his students, but also puts a smile on their face.
Gregory Grimsby, Assistant Professor in Computer Game Design, has 14 years of experience in computer game development. He has extensive experience in 2D and 3D artwork and creating textures, models, animations, and interface elements for various computer games. Grimsby has worked as a lead 3D Artist for Kesmai Studios and Bioware, where he most recently held the position of Art Director for 6 years. Projects have included work on games such as Air Warrior II, Aliens Online, Multiplayer Battletech: 3025, Dark Age of Camelot, and Warhammer Online. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in painting and drawing from James Madison University.
Tori Guarino has been drawing since early childhood, receiving her first blue ribbon when she was five years old. Since then, she has been steadily working to find her creative voice by investigating a variety of traditional, non-traditional, and digital media. During her college years she has received several awards including, among others, a scholarship from the ESA Foundation (Entertainment Software Association), “Best All Around”, at Florida Gulf Coast University’s art competition, and has been a featured artist in Mason’s publication, “Volition”. In addition to this, Tori hopes to incorporate her passion for fine art into the field of animation and game design. She believes a deep understanding of the fundamentals of fine art, coupled with a unique imagination, are exceedingly beneficial towards the creation of any game or video.
Donnie Holstrom is an advanced student in the Mason ComputerGame Design Program, and he is an independent game developer. His primary experience is in production and design, and he is currently working on refining his C#/Unity expertise as well. Donnie is also a producer at Bruxe Studios, developing Beard (permadeath platformer) and CMYK (top-down social game).
Seth Hudson, Assistant Director for Computer Game Design, teaches GAME 332 and serves as the professor of record for GAME 491. Hudson also serves as internship coordinator and the chief academic advisor for the program. He has taught English and English literature classes for 6 years at the collegiate level, with his creative work focusing on playwriting and non-linear storytelling. Other teaching credits include Playwriting 2: Character Development at the Performing Arts Training Studio in Washington, DC and courses in American Culture at various institutions. Hudson earned a Master of Arts in English and Comparative Literature degree from the University of Cincinnati, where he studied playwriting and pedagogy as it applies to the teaching of writing.
Scott Martin possesses both the education and research expertise in both the Sciences and the Arts, studying both Music Composition at the Peabody Conservatory, and Electrical and Audio Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He also holds a Doctorate from the University of Maryland in College Park. Dr. Martin has been the Assistant Dean of Technology, Research, and Institutional Advancement since 2000 at George Mason University. As Assistant Dean, Dr. Martin’s responsibilities include developing, coordinating, and managing new research and technology initiatives in the CVPA. His areas of research include interactive performance systems, virtual inter-professional education and practice, game education pedagogical theories and structures, and next-gen K-12 distant education solutions and assessment.
Sang Nam teaches technology-intensive courses in ComputerGame Design at George Mason University. He holds a M.F.A. in Electronic Integrated Arts from NYSCC at Alfred University and a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts and a B.S. in Molecular Biology from the University of California, San Diego. Nam’s work metaphorically explores how technologies are used in various art disciplines and how people perceive these art products in various dynamics. Nam has explored new possibilities when art and technology merge, and his work has been exhibited worldwide, including the US, UK, Korea, and Hungary. As a teacher-scholar, Nam has actively pursued his research on the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning. He has been selected as 2010 National CASTL Teaching Scholar, 2010-2012 Elon CATL Teaching Scholar, and 2008 Wisconsin Teaching Fellow.
Matt Nolan, Adjunct Faculty and Technical Director as Administrative Faculty for the Computer Game Design Program, has 7 years experience developing and designing interactive computer systems using game engines and gaming theories. As a specialist in digital audio and programming for interactivity, Nolan has given national lectures and presentations on interactive controller systems for game systems and has been the lead designer on multiple game-related software applications. He earned a Bachelor of Music with a concentration in Music Synthesis from Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts and is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Music Composition at GMU.
Debbie Collins-Palmer has thirty-five years of Managerial and IT experience that includes Cyber Security Administration and customer service, and IT management, where she managed the implementation of government contracts. She has worked as Vice President of Curriculum Development with Stilwell Technology and Robotics, LLC.
Debbie’s primary Cyber Security administration and education experience has been in the secondary educational environment, where she designed curriculum to support training of students, as well as, complete progress reporting.
Most recently, her expertise is being utilized in the development and instruction of Middle School cyber security and internet safety training. She is engaged in the development and implementation of the cyber defense curriculum for the Mason Game & Technology Academy (MGTA) summer program, and she is guiding the expansion of the MGTA cyber security program and curriculum for on-line instruction throughout the tri-county region.
Debbie has also actively served as the CyberPatriot coach for the Stonewall Middle School teams in both the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years, bringing her teams into the semifinals.
Currently, Debbie is also focused on the development of her own company, N2 Cyber Ed, which will be instrumentally designed to introduce the foundational and introductory cyber security skills set targeted for the k-5 grade levels.
Charlie Park is an advanced student at George Mason University and an Information Technology major, with a concentration in Information Security. He has teaching experience promoting personal cybersecurity, most recently conducting a series of MGTA workshops for students at Robinson Secondary School. Additionally, his programming experience includes Java, PHP, and SQL, as well as Android Development and UNIX/Linux OS.
Eric Piccione is Assistant Professor of Game Design. He has 20years of experience developing video games for companies such as Sega, Activision and Electronic Arts. He has launched games for mobile, PC and console platforms, and served as art director for three massively multiplayer online projects. He has taught 3D animation at George Mason University and the George Washington University, and conducted workshops in visual storytelling and comic book design at the Arlington Art Academy. His approach is to adapt traditional art and storytelling techniques to the digital medium in a hands-on game development setting. He holds a BA in English from Western Michigan University, where he focused on graphic design, creative writing and journalism. Before video games, he was an illustrator for comic books and various print media.
Matt Randon has amassed over 10,000 hours of instructional time in the classroom, from preschool teaching to college professing, and everywhere in between. He has a background in Computer Science and English, and he uses both to teach English to high school students and video game design at George Mason University. He is currently pursuing his Master’s in Instructional Design and Development where he specializes in the use of educational games. He is currently working on a math website and app based around Flow Theory to help students hone basic math skills.
Anson Rutherford is a senior at George Mason University, and an independent game programmer and designer in his spare time. He also leads a competitive programming team at GMU, and very much enjoys learning about programming and game design, both at school and on his own. He hopes to spend the rest of his life creating games, both for business and pleasure, and has thoughts of becoming a professor.
Evan Smith is a recent graduate of George Mason University’s Computer Game Design program, having acquired knowledge of both visual and performing arts. Throughout his academic career, he exposed himself to what was considered “game art”, acquiring experience in 3D modeling, animation, sound design, and more. Smith has worked on an array of projects throughout his academic career at GMU, including Garth who Grapples (Environment and UI Artist), West (Artist and Sound Designer), Lucid Dreamers (Artist and Sound Designer), and several others. Currently, Evan is serving as a Game Design Instructor for both MGTA and STEM exCEL, sharing his passion and knowledge of game design with the next generation of game design enthusiasts. He is also assisting with the development of entertaining and serious video game products for Wyvern Interactive. For more information about Evan, visit his portfolio: https://evansmithportfolio.wordpress.com/
Dr. Swanwick earned her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Virginia after graduating with her B.S. in Biology from Duke University. She conducted neuroscience research at the National Institutes of Health for five years before performing autism genetics research at MindSpec for three years. Throughout her scientific career, she actively participated in science outreach and eventually realized that her true passion lies in science education. She served as the Director of Life Sciences Programs for the science enrichment center Ideaventions for almost two years before co-founding an educational game company, Catlilli Games (www.catlilli.com), in 2015. Catlilli Games aims to teach children about complex topics such as STEM, History, and English with fun, interactive board and card games.
Andrew Sweeney is currently a graduate student in the Computer Game Design Program at George Mason University, as well as being the Lead Engineer at Professions Quest LLC. He has experience with many game engines, specializing in the Unity3D and Unreal platforms. He is also proficient in numerous programming languages such as Python, Java, C, C++, and Ruby.
Kathryn Thomas is a senior in the Computer Game Design program at George Mason. Though her passion is in writing and level design, she has experience in 3D modeling and animation. Kathryn also has experience in several programs including, Unity, UDK, 3DS Max, Photoshop, Premiere, Illustrator, and In Design.
Kennard Tindal works at Little Arms Studios doing music and sound design, partial effect design, coding, and UI design. He graduated from the George Mason University’s Game Designprogram and is currently pursuing his Masters in English with a concentration in Cultural Studies at Mason, focusing on Video Game Studies. Kennard loves teaching the next generation of game designers and has been teaching for MGTA for two years.
Tyler van Vierssen
Tyler van Vierssen initially pursued a degree in Art at George Mason University, but instead found a talent for programming and game design. After graduating from the Computer Game Design program in 2014, he branched into robotics and software development with Stilwell Technology and Robotics. Tyler now works with two Virginia-based game companies: Catlilli Games – a children’s educational gaming company at the Serious Games Institute, and Wyvern Interactive – an indie company made up of Mason students and Alumni.
Iliana Vazuka is a resent graduate from George Mason University’s Computer Game Design program. She has been interested in Game Art and Design since she was 12, and has been pursuing it ever since. Iliana possesses leadership experience, having taught and been in leadership positions since 2007, and she is also an Adobe Certified Educator for Photoshop CS5.1. She has expertise in both the plastic and digital arts, including 3D modeling, texturing, concept art, animation, digital painting, drawing, painting and stippling. In addition to her artistic skills, Iliana has about 8 years of programming experience, in both object-oriented and scripting languages, making her well-rounded in her field. Check out her portfolio at ilianavazuka.com.
Boris Willis, Assistant Professor in the Computer Game DesignProgram in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, holds an MFA in Dance and Technology from The Ohio State University. Willis’ MFA Thesis at Ohio State University focused on the interaction between computer games/gaming, storytelling, video, animation and human movement. Willis is the Chief Artistic Officer of Boris Willis Moves through which he designs games for live and web based performances. Willis’ research and professional performance projects allow the Game Program to not only strengthen its foundational offerings, but also allow an augmentation of the program’s mission into truly important interdisciplinary areas of study invaluable to the student of Game Design in the present, and in the future.
Professor Wren is the instructor for basic game design and studiocourses; he earned a BA in Cognitive Psychology from the University of San Francisco and is currently pursuing an advanced degree in Instructional Technology. Professor Wren has 12 years of experience as an artist and producer in the video game industry for such organizations as Spectrum Holobyte-Microprose-Hasbro Interactive, Electronic Arts/Maxis, and Namco-Bandai Games America. His portfolio of published game titles includes Falcon 4.0, The Sims product line, and Warhammer: Mark of Chaos RTS. His skills and professional expertise demonstrate knowledge of the language and structure needed to develop game ideas and the dynamics of a game development team. His expertise in the field establishes his knowledge of the theory and process of creating video game designs and working with game design tools. He understands the historical, as well as current game genres.