Worcester Polytechnic Institute Student Nicholas Baker Awarded Marshall Scholarship

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Computer Science Department

WPI's Game Development Club

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Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

Worcester, Mass. - January 16, 2003 -Nicholas Baker doesn't want people to view things only in black and white. He sees that there are a lot of gray areas in life, a trait that has served him well in his academic career and brought him international recognition from the British government. The Worcester Polytechnic Institute senior, and Milford, New Hampshire resident, is the University's first Marshall Scholarship recipient. This year, 40 Marshall scholarships were awarded by Great Britain from a pool of nearly 1,000 candidates from across the United States.

"I want to dedicate my work to inspire social involvement and responsibility," said Baker who will continue his studies in digital media design and video gaming.

"The British Parliament created the Marshall Scholarship in honor of General George C. Marshall as a gesture of gratitude from the people of Great Britain for assistance received from the United States after World War II," explained Prof. Peter Hansen, who oversaw Baker's application process in conjunction with Baker's academic advisors - Professors David Brown, Michael Ciaraldi, Roger Gottlieb, and Gregory Theyel. "The Marshall Scholarship is one of the most competitive and prestigious merit scholarships available to graduating American seniors. Twenty one U.S. colleges and universities are represented in this year of scholars."

"Nick is a perfect embodiment of what we teach at WPI," said WPI President Edward A. Parrish. "We don't just educate our students in the mechanics and elegance of science, technology and engineering, we nurture their desire to use this knowledge to improve the human condition; and to integrate art, music, philosophy and literature into their work and research. We strive to teach them how to learn and how to think rather than what to learn and what to think."

Baker is a double major in Computer Science and Philosophy at WPI and will study digital games technology at Liverpool John Moores University or the University of Edinburgh. He hopes to pursue a career in computer gaming and digital media design.

While Baker notes that many people don't take video and computer games seriously, young people spend a great deal of time with them. "I grew up with computer games," said Baker. "It is a new and developing form of media, and the stereotypical view is that video and computer games are escapist, violent and sexist. But we are at a point where games can be used to look at contemporary society's struggles - we could use games to help people figure out how to solve problems and look at challenges in new ways."

The WPI senior also sees opportunities for other uses for video and computer games, most notably with interactive ones. "I want to create games that look at the gray areas of life - the environment, globalization, societal issues that aren't cut and dried - and present those issues within the context of the game and give the players a chance to come away with new ideas and solutions."

Baker has already put his ideas to work : As a participant in an interdisciplinary program that is part of WPI's curriculum, Baker worked in London for Science Year, a British organization that aims to make science engaging for younger students. Working with a WPI team, he designed and created two web-based games to promote science to English school children. One was based on rock-=climbing and involved learning about geology and nutrition. The second was based on the invention process, and the manner in which science fiction novels can inspire real-world inventions.

"While working on this project, I realized that the goal was not merely to make science fun and entertaining for kids, it was to engage them with science at a deeper level - to create a space through which they could interact with scientific ideas, developing connections and thoughts of their own," he explained. "As a child, I was fascinated with video games - my friends and I would rush home from school to play them - we'd re-enact the story and try to save the world," said Baker. "Studying philosophy as an undergraduate introduced me to a whole new world. I learned that I was not alone in my search for truth or ideals - there were voices throughout history there to teach me, and through them my life took on a new meaning. I was especially inspired by the ideals of non-violent protest and civil disobedience, and joined in peaceful protests myself against the World Bank and IMF as part of the anti-globalization movement."

After his experience in London, Baker said he saw the enormous potential to transform video games from an escapist entertainment into a provocative medium of communication - unique in their ability to involve the audience/players directly in the experience. "Video games could evolve to become an instrument for social change. Players can direct the events of the game in their own way, exploring the different sides of a conflict or influencing its resolution and in the process, the players can be motivated to think about their own lives and the world around them."

"As a child, I was always drawn into the drama of saving imagined world or fictitious characters from monsters and evil forces," said Baker. "Maybe now I can live to draw others into saving the real one."

Baker will begin his two year scholarship after graduation from WPI in 2003.

About the Marshall Scholarships

Over a thousand young Americans have been awarded Marshall Scholarships since the program's inception. Prominent past Marshall Scholars include US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer; Duke University president (and former Wellesley president) Nannerl Keohane; Providence psychiatrist Peter Kramer ("Listening to Prozac"); and Pulitzer Prize winning authors Tom Friedman of the New York Times and Dan Yergin ("The Prize"); Stanford Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan; and noted inventor Ray Dolby.

The Marshall Scholarships were established in 1953 as a British gesture of thanks to the people of the United States for the assistance received after the Second World War under the Marshall Plan. Financed by the British Government, the highly competitive scholarships provide an opportunity for American students who have demonstrated academic excellence to continue their studies for two to three years at the British university of their choice. The Scholarships are worth about $60,000 each.

About WPI

WPI is a pioneer in technological higher education, and is recognized as one of the leading outcomes-oriented undergraduate programs preparing people for success in our technological world. Since its founding in 1865, WPI has broadened and perfected an influential curriculum that balances theory and practice.

This innovative and unique combination of educational methods, learning environment and a worldwide network of project centers is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Its main campus is located in Worcester, Massachusetts. WPI supports the academic and research pursuits of over 2,800 undergraduate students, 1,200 graduate students and 220 faculty pursuing opportunities to blend technological research and practice with societal needs, delivering meaningful real-world benefits.

For over a century, WPI has awarded advanced degrees in the sciences and engineering disciplines, as well as the management of technology and business. Our alumni include Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry; Harold Black, inventor of the principle of negative-feedback; Carl Clark, inventor of the first practical airbag safety system; Dean Kamen, inventor of the first wearable drug infusion pump; and many others who contribute to the transformation of our technological world.