Born and raised on a dairy farm in rural Blanchard, Ashley Ervin has always dreamed of being immersed in a large city.
Luckily for her, this fall she’s venturing off to college at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in a suburb of Rochester, the third-largest city in New York.
Looking for artsy, yet practical
Knowing Ervin’s personality, it was no surprise to her parents, Basil and Ronda Ervin, that she’d pursue an education on the artsy side.
Ervin, who will graduate from Montabella High School June 2, took every possible art and computer class at Montabella and made a manga (Japanese comic book) for her senior project. It was her dream since fifth grade to create her own manga, and now she has done it. Her journey to fulfill this dream has not only allowed her to enjoy drawing, but many other forms of art, as well.
With a strong aesthetic appreciation for art, she first considered pursing a Bachelor’s in Fine Art degree, but thought it may not be a very marketable field. Then, she decided to pursue a more specialized field — game design and programming. Her search for a game design degree program led her to RIT, ranked No. 4 in the nation among video game design schools.
“I always liked to play video games and was always interested in how they were made,” she said. “RIT had what I was looking for.”
Big move to big city
But, RIT is in New York. Being a country girl, studying in the city would be a gutsy move.
Her mom, Ronda, wasn’t sold on the idea.
“When she wanted to apply at Rochester (RIT), I said if you’re accepted, we’ll go visit,” she said. “When she received the acceptance letter, I did promise, so we went to an open house over spring break.”
Any earlier doubts were dismissed after she and her family visited RIT’s campus. They went through dorms and listened to a presentation on the Game Design and Development program.
Once the Ervins met people during their tour of the RIT campus, they felt relieved. Everyone made them feel welcomed. The game design program is extremely difficult to get into, especially for females. Less than 10 percent of applicants are accepted with female acceptance even lower. During their visit, however, the Ervins met two other girls from the area who will study game design.
“They are super nice people,” said Ronda of their new friends. “They said if Ashley needs anything, they’re close by. The girls exchanged emails and have been corresponding. It’s still scary to let her go, but we have to.”
RIT a perfect fit
Ervin was impressed with the area and what RIT had to offer in terms of her educational needs. Rochester, New York — once a major manufacturing hub and site of many flour mills — is now an international center of higher education. And RIT felt like her kind of place.
“The visit made the vision I had for my future real,” she said. “RIT had exactly what I was looking for in a degree and a school. I felt like the program was made for me.”
The Game Design and Development program was just what she was looking for. RIT’s a private university, situated on a vast 1,300 acres with nearly 18,000 students. Coming from a small school, that’s a little scary, Ervin admits.
“Once I get over there, I’m sure I’ll be OK, though” she said. “I’m really excited to be in a more diverse group of people with similar interests.”
What’s a game designer?
A game designer adds an artistic touch to a video game’s characters, settings and storyline, according to Ervin. This person has to be somewhat imaginative and have technical skill and good writing skills. Ervin says she fits the bill when it comes to these qualifications.
“I want to design the visual aspect of the games, as well as program things like artificial intelligence and the physics engine,” she said. “I will most likely learn to do this with C++, a popular computer language. While this program does focus more on the programming aspects of creating games, I plan on taking many classes on design to help balance out my skills.”
Ervin doesn’t know exactly where she will work, but likes the thought of working for Square Enix, a company that makes many of the video games she’s played over the years, such as the Final Fantasy series.