Two students graduating from Rochester Institute of Technology this year are the first to receive bachelor’s degrees in RIT’s new digital humanities and social sciences program.
DHSS involves interdisciplinary study, merging curriculum from traditional liberal arts subjects with technical ones to broaden students’ understanding, skills and marketability.
Dillon Guscott of Baldwin, N.Y., and Everett Kline of Allegany, N.Y., are dual majors. The DHSS bachelor’s program began offering classes last spring. As an interdisciplinary degree program, they took the required core courses and earned enough credits for the degree by completing courses in other departments – Guscott in game design and development, and Kline in the School of Individualized Study.
“Being a student in the DHSS major has been pretty interesting, not only because of the courses and the content of study, but also for being a trailblazer for future students in the major,” Kline said.
Kline plans to take digital media and English in graduate school and ultimately pursue a postsecondary teaching career.
“I’m looking to expand my knowledge of coding and writing,” he said. And he believes he can help employees in large companies communicate better, specifically between their engineers and the business office.
“They don’t speak the same language,” Kline said. “The engineers are heavily based on numbers, and people on the business side studied mercantile business and may not be able to communicate well with the people in the back.”
Guscott has already accepted a full-time job with Workinman, a Rochester game development company, where he’ll be a 3D animator. He’s also considering grad school.
“Initially I came to RIT for game design, thinking I would be doing programming and design work,” Guscott said. “But I animated something for a class and I really liked it.”
Guscott feels he can make animated characters more meaningful and centered his capstone project on this topic. It’s a good example of how digital humanities combines liberal arts like ethics and philosophy with game design and animation.
“Not a lot of thought is put into game characters now,” he said. “The characters are pretty flat. They don’t have much of a say of what goes on. When you have a character, they should have motivations, values, a place in society and personality traits to show how they interact with others. You need to show how these things go into play and how they interact with other people, even if it is really subtle.”
When he first heard about the new DHSS degree being offered, Guscott said his understanding of what DHSS was all about was a bit nebulous. “I didn’t notice how broad the field was,” he said. “But it seems in line with a lot of things I’m doing. It’s still a hard area to define, but I felt what it was when I got into it. It has really opened up a lot of potential paths for me.”
Kline, a self-described nerd and acting president of the Rochester Wargamers Association and Guild, enjoys infusing ethical dilemmas into new games. His capstone project involved creating a modification unit for the popular video game Fallout 4, designed to allow players to develop cognitive empathy through an interactive narrative of a refugee crisis.
“You have two groups of refugees arguing about space in the remains of a post-apocalyptic wasteland,” he said. “It’s similar to today’s society but allows for exploration of different themes and motivators. It’s got a lot of similarity to modern-day issues without the weight of current politics that would either push people away or muddle the issue.”
One of their teachers, Tamar Carroll, director of DHSS, said it has been a pleasure to see Guscott and Kline develop their capstone projects.
“They are so creative and innovative, and their rich, interdisciplinary work reflects that,” she said. “Having had both Dillon and Everett in class, I’ve been impressed by their deep thoughtfulness and the integrity they bring to their work.”