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When classes begin next fall at the new DigiPen Nexus Richardson location in Texas, students won’t need to look far to find a friendly face — or even two! From day one, they’ll be supported by an on-site team consisting of two longtime members of the DigiPen community.

On the administrative side, Director of Operations Rachel Thompson has been on the ground in Richardson for more than a year, laying much of the groundwork for the new program. Her role, she says, will be to oversee student services, partnerships, facilities, and student outreach.

Thompson joins the Richardson-based program with a wealth of experience both at DigiPen and the game industry at large. Her history at DigiPen began in 2012, when she first joined the Redmond, Washington, campus as a member of the student outreach and recruitment team.

“This is where I started making wonderful connections with both current students, prospective students, and the game industry. I enjoyed every second of going to game conventions and other expos involved in STEM, and I felt a connection with the whole community,” she says.

From there, Thompson transitioned into career services and employer engagement with a focus on growing and establishing new industry connections with DigiPen, as well as building up the school’s alumni services. In 2017, Thompson accepted an offer to become the studio manager for V1 Interactive, an indie startup co-founded by game industry legend Marcus Lehto, formerly of Bungie fame. While there, Thompson supported studio personnel and executive leadership through the development and launch of their 2020 game Disintegration.

Today, DigiPen is thrilled to welcome her back, this time as the on-site director for the new DigiPen Nexus Richardson location. Since beginning her new role in 2021, Thompson has been working diligently behind the scenes — building partnerships with local government, education, and industry leaders, as well as preparing the office and classroom facilities that will soon host team-based game project classes and other in-person activities.

“The facility is a fantastic setting to mimic the experience of a development workspace, which will in-hand prepare students for the industry environment,” Thompson says. “The space is modern with a collaborative feel where students will have all office resources available to help them succeed.”

On the academic side, new students in the BS in Computer Science and Game Development program will be learning and studying under the guidance of program director Justin Chambers. In addition to teaching the in-person game project classes, he’ll be on-hand to assist with areas like math and computer science tutoring.

“Basically, I’m the faculty curriculum instructor that is going to be there really supporting these students through their education,” Chambers says.

Like Thompson, Chambers is no stranger to the Dragon community. As a DigiPen graduate turned faculty member, he also currently serves as the college’s associate dean of articulation and coordination.

After graduating from the Redmond, Washington, campus in 2009, Chambers worked in the game industry as a software engineer and program manager at 5th Cell Media and later at Microsoft, where he worked on the HoloLens and Xbox Global Publishing teams. Upon returning to his alma mater in 2016, Chambers began teaching freshman game project courses, instructing entire cohorts of computer science students how to take their first steps into the world of game design and development.

In addition to his regular teaching duties, Chambers was also responsible for developing DigiPen’s articulation agreements with various community college systems — a task that eventually led to the formation of the DigiPen Nexus System and curriculum for the two-year degree program offered at Richardson.

“This program is really aimed at students who have completed an associate’s degree in computer science and want to transfer and get a four-year degree,” Chambers says. “So if you love video games, solving hard problems, and building interactive things — really digging your fingers in and engaging in that collaborative process — this is absolutely the program.”

Having now taught DigiPen game classes at both the freshman and senior level, Chambers says he’s excited to bring those seven years of experience to the students at Richardson next fall.

“One of the most important things that makes DigiPen unique is the in-person game project classes. It’s almost like an incubation chamber. The students are engaging. We’re solving problems on white boards. We’re debating whether the AI should jump or shoot,” Chamber says with a laugh.

This year, Chambers will wrap up his final year of teaching at the Redmond campus before moving with his family to Richardson.

“I am pumped. I am so thrilled,” Chambers says. “Everyone who knows I’m going to Texas has told me the 17 barbecue places I’ve got to try, so there’s going to be lots of barbecue, lots of hot summer days, lots of swimming in pools.” For Thompson, becoming a Texas resident has already involved plenty of sightseeing and adventure.

“My favorite is visiting different state parks and all the places I can find fossils or dinosaur tracks,” she says. “Driving through the expansiveness of the state through small country towns under a big sky is a great feeling.”

Prospective students will have an opportunity to speak directly with both Thompson and Chambers in the coming weeks and months. We look forward to sharing more even more exciting information about the new program soon!

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