Microsoft partners with USC

Last week, Microsoft Corp. gave a gift to the USC School of Cinematic Arts to collaborate with the school and make advances in interactive media.

The Microsoft Next Generation Entertainment initiative will contain three key features for SCA’s Interactive Media Division: an endowed faculty member, the Microsoft Endowed Professorship, and support for the Game Innovation Lab and Interactive Entertainment program, said Tracy Fullerton, SCA associate professor and IMD chair.

“It’s a really great opportunity, the endowment,” Fullerton said. “And in addition to the endowed position, and support for the lab and for students, we’ll be working with people from Microsoft very closely.”

The initiative will also establish direct benefits for students, such as aid, access to internships with Microsoft, speakers, mentors and the opportunity for students to work with professionals in the classroom, Fullerton said.

Last March, The Princeton Review ranked USC’s IMD the No. 1 undergraduate game design program in both the United States and Canada.

USC’s program reached its position at the top of the list by setting its own standards, Fullerton said.

“We didn’t get there by comparing ourselves to other programs. … We have established our own [criteria] and we’re going to continue to set our own standards,” she said.

The School of Cinematic Arts has worked with Microsoft in the past on research projects and classroom collaboration.

“We ran a class with [Microsoft] last spring where we had Microsoft folks in the classroom working with students, and it was a great experience for everybody involved,” Fullerton said. “That was a big part of where they saw the potential.”

Microsoft was interested in working with USC because it is a leader in its field, said Phil Spencer, corporate vice president of Microsoft Games Studios.

“By working closely with an industry leading program, Microsoft hopes to play a central role in defining the current and next generation of interactive entertainment,” Spencer said in a press release.

Fullerton said the endowed professorship is a particularly exciting facet of the initiative. Microsoft will set up a fund to bring a professor to the school, ensuring that the program remains strong and has industry leaders serving as faculty members, she said.

“We will do a search and look for someone who is really innovative and fits with our curriculum and [who] will hopefully take us to new places,” Fullerton said.

Matt Payte, a senior majoring in cinema-television critical studies, said he was impressed to hear about Microsoft’s decision to choose USC for its initiative.

“I hear only the most amazing things about [the program] from friends,” he said. “They’re changing the industry while in college and they deserve a lot more recognition.”

USC’s IMD program is unique in that it is the only one of its kind located in a film school rather than in an engineering school, a feature that enables the program to thrive on creativity, Payte said.

“It’s the only one focused on creativity rather than on the technical,” he said. “The professors seem like the most creatively oriented people out there.”

The initiative’s endowed professorship will begin during the summer of 2011. SCA administrators, faculty and students will enjoy the additional financial support for the program as well as the strengthened position for USC to become an even more dominant leader in the field.

“We’ve all had a [significant] relationship with [Microsoft] over the years,” Fullerton said. “It’s clear that we have aligned with thinking about the future of the industry.”