Lef to right: Graduate interactive media student Olivia Jacques-Baker; Executive Director of FIEA Ben Noel; graduate interactive media student Adrienne Boatright ’22; games and interactive media student Carlos Diaz, EA Director of Operations and Program Management Jocel Thornhill; and games and interactive media student Luis Santiago. (Photo by Kyle Martin)

One of the world’s largest gaming companies, Electronic Arts (EA), has made a total investment of $125,000 to encourage UCF students in their continued pursuit of careers in the video game industry. Through its Inclusion in Gaming Endowed Scholarship, EA aims to diversify the growing gaming industry by supporting the success of students at UCF, which is globally recognized for its innovative curriculum related to the field.

Established in 2021 with an initial investment of $100,000 and sustained in 2022 with $25,000, the endowed scholarship recognizes students who have overcome adversity or are striving for the inclusion of others who have been historically underrepresented in the profession. The endowed scholarship is an extension of a more than 15-year partnership between UCF and EA that expands the potential of the people and ideas needed to keep up with the dynamic demand of the video game industry.

Recognized at the UCF College of Sciences 2022 Scholarship Dinner Wednesday, Nov. 16, this year’s recipients include:

  • Adrienne Boatright ’22, a digital media alum who is currently pursuing a master’s in interactive entertainment
  • Luis Santiago, a games and interactive media undergraduate student

“It was a very long journey for me from high school to UCF. I had to have two jobs while studying full time at Valencia. But I persisted and never gave up on my ambition,” says Santiago. The Evans High School and ELEVATE Orlando alumnus is an avid gamer and third-year college student from Ocoee, Fla., who transferred to UCF in 2022 after earning his associate degree from Valencia College. “The scholarship helps me with some of my bills so I can focus more on my game projects and my classes at UCF.”

With a commitment to inclusive hiring and next generation talent development, and in collaboration with its employee resource groups — voluntary employee-led groups that unite around a common affinity, experience or interest to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace — EA is dedicated to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts at its studios around the globe to develop games that best represent its player community.

“This scholarship is just one of many steps we can take to ensure we are doing our part to help build an industry that better reflects all those who play,” says Jocel Thornhill, EA director of Operations and Program Management. “We hope we can serve as leaders of change to bridge existing gaps in our industry and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to succeed.”

UCF and EA first joined forces in 2005 when they partnered with the City of Orlando to launch the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy (FIEA) — which is home to the world’s No. 1 graduate (for three consecutive year) and No. 13 undergraduate game design programs, according to The Princeton Review and PC Gamer.

UCF and EA are not only partners, but also neighbors that drive the Florida’s economic vitality. The video game industry contributes more than $2.6 billion to the state’s economy and accounts for more than 16,000 jobs, according to the latest report from the Entertainment Software Association. Half of FIEA’s graduates remain in Florida. In March, EA’s new 175,940-square-foot facility in downtown Orlando’s Creative Village opened to employees. The EA studio is one block away from UCF Downtown, which is home to FIEA and the digital media undergraduate program. One in every eight members of the development team at EA Orlando is a FIEA graduate.

“EA’s investment in our underrepresented students is crucial in diversifying the local talent pipeline in our region,” says Ben Noel, executive director at FIEA, who previously worked for EA before pioneering UCF’s game design programs. “This scholarship funding signals to our students that no matter who they are or where they may have come from, Orlando is a place where they can succeed in the industry.”

FIEA’s graduate program, which started 12 students, now has over 850 graduates at over 300 companies in 45 different states and countries around the globe — with an average starting salary over $70,000.

Building upon the impact of EA’s Inclusion in Gaming Endowed Scholarship, leaders at the UCF Nicholson School of Communication & Media awarded $5,000 from the Tony & Sonja Nicholson Endowment Scholarship to support an additional five undergraduate students from underrepresented groups who are pursuing careers in video games.

In 2021, the global gaming industry is estimated to have generated more than $300 billion from direct (such as consoles, software and in-game purchase) and indirect sales (such as mobile devices, gaming PCs and gaming-related communities), according to Accenture. The U.S. is home to the second largest gaming marketing in the world, with $48 billion in revenue. Last year, Wallet Hub ranked Orlando the fifth best city for gaming in the nation.

Last month, EA was 2022 Schwartz Innovation award, an honor the Orlando Economic Partnership bestows to a company that makes the biggest impact on Central Florida’s economy and competitiveness through innovation. Recently, UCF was recognized as the top 20 institution for Most Innovative Schools by U.S. News & World Report. Knight Nation is also the highest ranked in Florida. Both EA and UCF continue to pursue excellence in gaming by empowering people of all backgrounds to fuel the diverse ideas needed to make a global influence.

Applications for the EA Inclusion in Gaming Endowed Scholarship typically open during the spring semester through UCF’s Access to Opportunities Portal.