UA Little Rock doctoral students mentor middle school gaming club in South Carolina

Rick Galeano, an online Ph.D. who live in South Carolina, visited with members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Federation at Alice Drive Middle School in Sumter, South Carolina, on Feb. 1.

A husband and wife team, who are both pursuing a Ph.D. in information science at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, are mentoring middle school students by sharing their love of games with a science fiction and fantasy club in South Carolina.

Katrin and Rick Galeano, online students who live in South Carolina, visited with members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Federation, SF3 for short, at Alice Drive Middle School in Sumter, South Carolina, on Feb. 1.

The couple are members of the Collaboratorium for Social Media and Behavioral Studies (COSMOS), a research group led by Dr. Nitin Agarwal, Jerry L. Maulden-Entergy Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor of Information Science.

The Galeanos live at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, where Rick is currently stationed  as an active-duty soldier. Both work as social media practitioners for COSMOS. They led an interactive discussion with SF3 club members about the game theory, design, and development. They wanted to inspire club members, including their daughter, Anna Galeano, to embrace a love of science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM.

“Incorporating design at an early age into programs like this encourages students to reach beyond their potential and develop thought processes critical to higher education,” said Rick Galeano, who used real-life examples to show how game theory is used.

“We were able to help the students conceptualize, design, and implement strategies to decision making that each player should make in order to outmaneuver the other,” he said. “Although this was a simple approach to problem solving, it was an effective approach because of how game mechanics work in structured play.”

By mentoring students at this critical age, the Galeanos hope that the students will be encouraged to pursue STEM majors in college and learn valuable skills at the same time.

“Think of STEM programs as an interdisciplinary approach to learning,” Katrin Galeano said. “Students that develop games are developing concepts to think through problem sets that they will encounter throughout life. This club doesn’t only offer students with common interests to get together, but it challenges them. The students impressed me with their insights and creativity.”

She also asked the students about their favorite board games. Students enthusiastically named games, followed by a brief description and reason why it was their top pick, which included Battle Sheep, Labyrinth, Tsuro of the Seas, and Munchkin. It was not only the teenagers who learned something new.

Thinking about their favorite game, why they liked it, and how it is played made students think about game mechanics, an important aspect of every game, including the one the students were about to start designing. Their daughter’s favorite game is Labyrinth “because it incorporates mental comprehension and logical solutions.”

“Our students have spent the year playing a variety of games to get an idea of how some game mechanics work together with synergy,” said Jennifer Spann, the club’s co-advisor and mentor. “Encouraging them to build games allows them the opportunity to incorporate their own themes with the game mechanics they like best.”

In groups of three, students brainstormed games they will create in the upcoming weeks. Katrin Galeano gave them a number of aspects to consider: game objective, game pieces, set-up, and instructions. The students will later present their games to the club. They will eventually choose two games that the students will create using STEM resources at the school.

The culminating event will be the final design, production, and implementation of the several games from the club being developed by the middle schoolers. A partner college (Central Carolina Technical College) that supports the middle school students with engineering skills and apprenticeships has already offered to use 3D printers to assist with the final printing. The Galeanos will return at the end of the semester to get an overview of all of the projects and sit down and enjoy some of the games with the students.

In the upper right photo, Rick Galeano, an online Ph.D. who lives in South Carolina, visited with members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Federation at Alice Drive Middle School in Sumter, South Carolina, on Feb. 1.

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