Sisler students parlay class into NASA gig

From the Winnipeg Free Press
Ah, those kids.. good times.

Sisler High School could soon be nicknamed Cape Canaveral North if student Daniel Cammarata has his way.

Cammarata, a Grade 11 student at Sisler, is enrolled in the school’s information communication and technology program and game design class.

He is one of a handful of students lending a critical eye to NASA, which has asked for feedback on a moon landing simulation software program currently being developed for them by Winnipeg-based group Project Whitecard.

"It was a very interesting experience. NASA wanted us to run their simulation and look for logistical or grammatical errors," said Cammarata, who lives in Tyndall Park.

Project Whitecard president Khal Shariff said a working relationship was first struck with Sisler students at a summer workshop hosted by the University of Winnipeg and conducted by Whitecard in 2010. Shariff expects the relationship to continue into the foreseeable future.

"I would imagine more students will be involved in testing some of the NASA software as well," he said.

Cammarata and his game design classmates have a few other tricks up their sleeves, including a racetrack simulation that incorporates the hallways at Sisler.

Greg Kiesman, who heads up the business and information technology department at the North End high school, said 2011will mark the first graduating class of ICT and game design students.

"We started by adding a game design class and introduction to technology class to our curriculum a few years ago and students have loved it," he said.

"Now students are looking forward to graduating and looking forward to the future."

One senior student looking forward to the future is Justin Landry, another Tyndall Park resident. Landry said the gaming industry has stepped into the mainstream consciousness in the last three years. He hopes to parlay the experience he is gaining at Sisler into a job in game design.

"There aren’t just a couple of businesses out there making games anymore. Gaming is as big an industry as music or film," he said, citing titles such as Call of Duty and Angry Birds as examples. Angry Birds, which was designed in Finland, has been purchased by more than 12 million customers since being released last year.

Kim Lazaruk, president of Nightshift Interactive, a design company based out of Winnipeg, said the fact that Sisler is offering a class on game design is an encouraging sign.

"What’s so great about this is that students don’t have to head to Toronto or Vancouver to get this kind of specialized training. They are getting a real head start in their home city at their own high school before heading into the real world," he said.

Kiesman said continued partnerships with gaming industry representatives in Winnipeg have helped make the Sisler program even stronger.

"It is these kinds these ongoing relationships that we hope get businesses looking at Sisler for potential new employees," he said.

Read the rest at the Winnipeg Free Press