Video game industry icon Eugene Jarvis and DePaul alumna and Trustee Sasha Gerritson take the College of Computing and Digital Media to the next level with a landmark gift
By Craig Keller
Collaboration among students, faculty and industry experts on real-world projects has long been a formula for innovation and acquiring career-ready skills at DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM).
It has powered Project Bluelight ﬁlms directed by faculty and staﬀed by student crews, software prototypes developed for major companies by students and industry mentors at the college’s iD Lab, student research on cybersecurity challenges for national defense contractors, and projects by data-science teams solving public-health problems.
Now, thanks to an extraordinary act of generosity, this engine for academic and career advancement is being supercharged with rocket boosters.
Eugene P. Jarvis, a trailblazer in the video game industry, and his wife, DePaul Trustee Sasha L. Gerritson (MUS ’99), are taking CDM to the next level with a landmark gift, the largest in the university’s history. It launches the Jarvis Student Center for Innovation and Collaboration, a multidisciplinary, student-focused space for professional learning and industry partnerships fueled by emerging technologies and projects dedicated to societal needs and innovation. The gift also creates endowed scholarships and a research collaboration with DePaul’s Ruﬀ Institute of Global Homelessness.
In recognition of the couple’s generosity and dedicated leadership, the college has been renamed the Eugene P. Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media. DePaul celebrated the new center, the college’s renaming and the couple’s gift with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebratory events on May 20.
“Eugene and Sasha’s legacy gift ensures CDM will continue to empower generations of student leaders and innovators for years to come, helping build a brighter collective future,” says former DePaul President A. Gabriel Esteban. “On behalf of our students and the entire DePaul family, I thank them for this transformative act of generosity that will have a profound impact on our students, as well as the Chicago community and industries nationwide.”
A Shared Legacy of Progress and Partnership
With approximately 5,500 undergraduate and graduate students, CDM offers nationally ranked, cutting-edge programs in computer science, cybersecurity, data science, game design, graphic design, ﬁlm, animation and more. The college, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2021, includes the School of Computing, School of Design and School of Cinematic Arts and has a diverse student body that brings fresh perspectives to the industries students enter and transform.
“Sasha and I are thrilled to help one of DePaul’s most exciting, vital colleges expand its innovative, collaborative, hands-on programs,” says Jarvis.
The gift builds on the college’s evolution as well as the couple’s own remarkable history of support and immersive leadership at DePaul.
In 2008, Jarvis was named the ﬁrst Game Designer in Residence at CDM, where he provided guidance at the outset of the gaming program and worked side-by-side with student game developers. Jarvis is an icon in the video game industry. Starting in the 1970s at Atari and Williams, he programmed some of their earliest microprocessor-powered pinball and video arcade games. Jarvis’ best-known creations include Defender, Robotron: 2084, Smash TV and Cruis’n. He continues his passion for arcade games at the Raw Thrills design and development studio, which has included DePaul alumni on its staﬀ and marked its 20th anniversary in 2021.
“It’s been exciting to help grow DePaul’s pioneering video game design program for the last 15 years, and see it expand and ﬂourish into one of the world’s foremost game design programs,” says Jarvis. “At the same time, the College of Computing and Digital Media has vastly expanded its creative palette, embracing the School of Design and School of Cinematic Arts. Guided by former Dean David Miller and current college leadership, including Interim Dean Lucia Dettori and the accomplished faculty, CDM is laser-focused on the emerging creative industries and technologies of tomorrow, giving students the edge they need to innovate and thrive as future creators and professionals.”
“CDM is laser-focused on the emerging creative industries and technologies of tomorrow, giving students the edge they need to innovate and thrive as future creators and professionals.”
— Eugene Jarvis
Gerritson chaired Now We Must: The Campaign for DePaul’s Students, a fundraising eﬀort that raised nearly $125 million from the DePaul community to support students’ most urgent needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The couple previously made a gift to create the Sasha and Eugene Jarvis Opera Hall, a state-of-the-art opera performance space at DePaul’s School of Music, and has given to DePaul’s Opera Theatre Endowment, Fund for the Institute of Global Homelessness and Holtschneider Chair in Vincentian Studies.
“Eugene’s and Sasha’s active involvement in the lives of our students goes far beyond their extraordinary philanthropy,” says Gerald Beeson (BUS ’94), chair of DePaul’s Board of Trustees. “Our students have also had the incredible beneﬁt of sharing in their expertise, artistry and creativity as a powerful motivation for their success along similar career paths.”
A Space for Creativity and Community
Located at the DePaul Center on the university’s Loop Campus, the Jarvis Student Center for Innovation and Collaboration will connect students with industry professionals, creators and experts-in-residence. It will be a locus of interdisciplinary activity that inspires both faculty- and student-led curricular and extracurricular innovation and strengthens the academia-to-industry pipeline.
“The Jarvis Student Center for Innovation and Collaboration is an evolving and multifunctional place for building a community among students and bringing in experts for their beneﬁt,” says Dettori. “We want to encourage spontaneous collaboration among students as well as projects led by faculty and industry. The game studio is an example that combines all these elements.”
Game development draws contributors from all three of CDM’s schools, and the DePaul Originals Game Studio (DOGS) moved into the new space as its ﬁrst initiative. DOGS simulates a professional video game studio, with students from all of the CDM schools collaborating on the development of a single game across academic quarters until it’s polished enough for public release. Building an academia-to-industry pipeline is key. DOGS alumni are already working in industry studios such as NetherRealm and Iron Galaxy. Epic Games, developer of Unreal Engine—a software platform ubiquitous in the video game industry—recently accepted DePaul into its highly regarded global academic partner program.
“Each of the studio’s students works on particular pieces with an eye toward this bigger idea,” says Allen Turner, a School of Design senior professional lecturer who runs the studio with School of Computing instructor Will Meyers as creative director and engineering director, respectively. Turner emphasizes training through teamwork. “Whether graduate or undergraduate, what matters is the quality of their work and how well they understand it. As people stand out, we want them to mentor other people to help them move forward. That helps us to build a community.”
DOGS also connects with high school teachers and students in the Chicago Public Schools system through outreach eﬀorts involving game-development mentorship.
Furthering the connection to the local community, CDM’s PUSH Studio will also move into the Jarvis Student Center for Innovation and Collaboration, working with social-impact organizations and businesses. The interdisciplinary studio—modeled after the college’s iD Lab, where students create software prototypes for large companies that provide guidance and career opportunities—uses human-centered design methods to solve real-world problems. Students and faculty partner with industry professionals to drive new solutions using artiﬁcial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality and voice user interfaces.
“It’s a mutually beneﬁcial relationship,” says Dettori. “Students get grants and mentorship from business and nonproﬁt clients in Chicago and the experience of working in that environment, and clients get access to creative, exciting talents developed here at CDM.”
Connecting DePaul’s Mission
The gift also endows the Eugene P. Jarvis CDM Scholars Program, which will provide recognition and signiﬁcantly expand ﬁnancial assistance to outstanding students at both undergraduate and graduate levels.
“Making higher education accessible to the next generation—a core objective of DePaul’s Vincentian mission—has never been more important to us,” says Sasha Gerritson. “We want to enable DePaul students to dream big and put their creativity and skills to use in a way that beneﬁts society.”
Another area of innovation from the gift is a new collaboration between DePaul’s Ruﬀ Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH) and CDM. The institute leads a global movement to end street homelessness by bridging the gap among research, policy and practice. CDM students, mentored by faculty, will aid IGH and its partners in cities worldwide with data collection and analysis and communications initiatives. Program participants will help IGH better understand and combat homelessness through a comprehensive tool kit of specializations that includes big data analytics, statistical modeling and user-experience design.
“Two important pillars of successfully addressing homelessness include gathering, analyzing and applying data to decision-making and continuous communication about what’s working and what’s not working,” says IGH Director Lydia Stazen. “IGH is thrilled to collaborate with CDM on projects related to data and communication to bolster our work to support communities around the world in addressing homelessness.”
“The sky is the limit thanks to Eugene’s and Sasha’s generosity, partnership and support,” says Dettori. “This gift validates and empowers our unique pedagogy, connecting students, industry and community, and challenges us to expand those avenues in new, exciting ways. We look forward to the journey together.”