Both his father and grandfather were career Soldiers and Dominic McCumber plans to follow in their footsteps. The freshman believes Spencer High School’s Academy of Computer Science and Electronic Game Design will help him reach that goal.
“The way the world is right now, with more technology, the military needs programmers,” he said.
McCumber is one of 74 students enrolled in the three-year-old program. Magnet coordinator Toni Webb said modeling, simulation, gaming and animation have become a multibillion dollar industry and Fort Benning is among those seeking qualified employees. That is expected to grow with the relocation of the Armor School to Fort Benning since that branch uses even more simulations in training.
“Those are the up-and-coming careers that we want to prepare our students for,” Webb said.
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“The purpose of the magnet is to keep our kids local, going to Columbus State and then hired by the military and contractors,” said Reginald Green, Spencer principal.Spencer partners with both Columbus State University and Chattahoochee Valley Community College, which provide opportunities for dual enrollment, internships, and work site training.
CSU’s Project STEADI, Simulation Technology Education Assisting the Defense Industry, offers seven courses and a certificate at the graduate level.
John Fuller, a former chief of staff at Fort Benning who heads the college program, said military training gets more expensive every year and so simulation and games become more important.
“I think modeling, simulation and games education will provide our kids a way to stay in Columbus getting paid $60,000 to 120,000 starting salary,” Fuller said.
Spencer junior Michael Rorer said he was attracted to the curriculum in part because of the earning potential. He said his attention has been focused on military applications because his father is an Army retiree. A game in which a plane drops bombs on Soldiers won him first place in a regional completion. He said initially he designed games because he was bored. Now he intends to use the skills he has developed to attend college.
In addition to institutions of higher learning, Fort Benning contractors are working with the Spencer students. For instance, SAIC annually sends two students and two educators to the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference. Considered the largest modeling, simulation and training conference in the world, it promotes cooperation among the armed services, industry, academia and various government agencies in order to improve training and education.
Andre Carter attended the conference in Orlando, Fla., last year. As a result, he wants to compete in the conference’s Serious Games Showcase and Challenge this year. In addition to being “very competitive” he said the contest will help him become a computer technician or engineer.
Rachel Cottrell is attending this year’s conference and said she hopes it will provide additional insight into her future career path. Cottrell’s mother works in simulations at Fort Benning and the Spencer junior said that may be her focus, as well.
While the students said they have fun developing games, it’s not all play. The Spencer magnet program is academically rigorous. Students take a combination of Advanced Placement and computer science courses. In addition to core academic subjects, they study: programming, 3-D animation, gaming, graphic design, multimedia design and other computer specialties. Green said last year nine of the top 10 students were in the magnet program.
Spencer is the only school in Georgia offering courses in gaming or modeling and the program is gaining popularity. Webb said only 30 new students can be accommodated each year and this year there was a waiting list.
“As more students are aware of it, more gravitate to it and we expect a lot more with BRAC,” she said.
Green said in the future they will be able to double the number of students they can accept.