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Gamers set for Washington, D.C. trip

Posted: Friday, Nov 29th, 2013

Watsonville High School junior Morelia Lopez, (from left), GIIP associate director Tomas Gelder, WHS senior Marcus Cisneros and Watsonville Tec program director Jacob Martinez are shown outside Second Street Café on Wednesday as the students prepare for their trip to Washington, D.C. (Photo by Roseann Hernandez/Register-Pajaronian)

WATSONVILLLE — As gamers spend hours playing the latest video games this holiday break, a group of local high school students will be presenting their own video game creation to a roomful of influencers and policymakers in Washington, D.C. after winning a national fellowship for their innovative design.

Students from Watsonville High School will join 19 other youth – aged 16 to 24 – named Video Game Innovation Fellows by the Entertainment Software Association and Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s Leaders on the Fast Track and awarded grants for creating video games that seek solutions to problems that face their communities.

The two students will make the flight out to D.C. on Dec. 4 where, in addition to presenting their design on Capitol Hill, they will attend a White House briefing and evening reception.

They are part of Watsonville Tec, an after-school, technology-driven career pathway program.

Marcus Cisneros, a senior at Watsonville High School, and Morelia Lopez, a junior at Watsonville High School, will represent the group and the 10 other local high school students who created the winning technology tool – a mobile application called WHS College Mentor.

Built with the cross-platform jQuery mobile framework across just five days of development time, WHS College Mentor provides users with vital and tailored information as they start their journey to college.

The mobile application, available for Android smartphones and geared towards Watsonville High students on the road to college, supplies a college glossary, financial aid information, counselor and university contacts and other information gleaned from college workshops the Watsonville technology students took part in at UC Santa Cruz last summer where the mobile application was built.

Called the Youth Empowerment Institute, the five-day technology and leadership camp taught students college attainment in conjunction with the technology curriculum.

The camp was hosted by Global Information Internship Program (GIIP), an undergraduate fellowship program at UCSC and funded by a grant from Community Foundation Santa Cruz County.

The six girls and six boys who participated in the camp and built WHS College Mentor are students at Watsonville High School and Renaissance High.

Cisneros, who will be visiting the East Coast for the first time when his plane touches down in D.C. next week, said the experience and resulting recognition gives him a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

“I feel like I’ve done something,” he said. “And it opens up a whole new world of technology to me.”

Through Watsonville Tec, Cisneros, who is a part of Watsonville High School’s video academy, teaches middle school students how to use computers and has even started giving lessons on how to code. He played a major role in securing the group’s award, by submitting the online application to the awarding body.

“He really stepped up,” said Jacob Martinez, Watsonville Tec director.

Joining Cisneros on Capitol Hill will be Morelia Lopez, who has been a part of Watsonville Tec for eight years. A junior in Watsonville High School’s health academy, Lopez aims to pursue a career that combines health and technology.

“Technology is the doorway to a new future,” Lopez said outside Second Street Café in Watsonville on Wednesday as the group planned for their trip to D.C. “The world revolves around technology so students should use more technology.”

As a recipient of the ESA LOFT Video Game Innovation Fellowship, Watsonville Tec students will receive a $1,000 fellowship grant to continue developing their mobile application project.

Thomas Gelder, associate director of GIIP, said monies would go towards developing a second version of the mobile application, incorporating game style elements into the design whereby users receive a reward or incentive when they go deeper into the application.

The group also wants to expand beyond Watsonville High School and replicate the mobile application for each district high school.

“Our hope and vision is to get students from all three high schools in the district to develop an application for each site,” Martinez said.

The Video Game Innovation Fellows, and their games, were selected based on their vision, creativity and potential impact on their community.

Other winning video game ideas included a Greek mythological adventure to teach math to grade-school students, a hero who fights his way through SAT vocabulary words, and a game that educates kids how to write lyrics through Twitter.

To help fund this and other GIIP projects, GIIP is holding a crowdfunding campaign at www.crowdfund.giip.org.

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