The Department of Visualization was founded in 1989 when it became clear that digital art would play a big role in emerging communication technologies. But this newness has a drawback. “We don’t have a history of endowments,” said Tim McLaughlin, head of the department, noting that there are only two endowed scholarships and one endowed professorship in the department.
Fortunately, the department has a group of young alumni working at top animation and gaming studios—Disney, Pixar, Electronic Arts (EA), Lucas Films and DreamWorks—who are enthusiastic and generous. Aggies in these and other companies pool their money every year to provide non-endowed scholarships for visualization students.
“When I graduated, I told myself I would help Texas A&M however I could,” said Douglas Bell ’04 ’09, who works for the animated feature film division of Reel FX in Dallas. “I joined a company where other Aggies share this enthusiasm.” Former students there created the Reel FX Aggie Scholarship in 2014.
Last year, Gracie Arenas Strittmatter ’04 ’08, a senior technical artist at BioWare, a division of EA, started the Aggie Vizzers at EA Award. She and her husband Willem Strittmatter ’02 also created one of the department’s two endowed scholarships. “We wanted to foster the fairly new game curriculum at Texas A&M,” Arenas said. The bonus is that EA and other companies match employee donations.
Visualization students can apply for these pooled scholarships by sending a portfolio into each company that awards one; then the alumni at that company review the work and pick a favorite. The department makes the final decision, but usually concurs with the group’s recommendations.
This process doubly benefits students: Not only do they earn money for education, but their work is also seen by top professionals, which can lead to employment.
McLaughlin is especially appreciative of the contributions from these groups because he knows that many of them are not at a point in their careers where they have extra money for philanthropy. “This is real money for them,” he said. “They’re donating to a scholarship while they’ve got a baby in their arms or are trying to afford a down payment on a house in California. It means a lot that they make this effort.”