Andrew ZurekSchool is out and summer is upon us as we reach the end of June. It’s now time to announce our next Tech Student of the Month! This month, we are honored to highlight Andrew Zurek who is the project manager for the U.S. Imagine Cup winning team Bloom Studios. Andrew just graduated this month from Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy in Chicago, Illinois. He and his team built a computer game called Spero that is geared entirely around teaching children about environmental sustainability and how to be eco-friendly. The team took first place in the game design category of the 2011 U.S. Imagine Cup competition and has been recognized for their innovation, creativity and commitment to making the world a better place through technology. It is our pleasure to present Andrew’s and his team’s story.

Andrew began his journey into game development while attending the Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy after high school. At first, he wanted to be a writer of video game storylines but that changed quickly after his first few months at the academy. With the help of the faculty at Tribeca Flashpoint Academy, Andrew was pushed to explore all aspect of game production and found his talents best fit in the role of creative direction/project management.

Andrew and his team built their first games using the visual programming language found in Microsoft’s Kodu Game Lab. Using this as a starting point, Andrew began working more with Microsoft’s programming tools such as Visual Studio, XNA Game Studio and C#. All of these tools are made available to students at no cost through the Microsoft DreamSpark program.

Last January, Andrew and his classmates were assigned a long term project to create their own video game. The class could form their own teams and Andrew decided to pull in David Grund and Nathan Heyl to be artists on the project along with Nathan Moore as the lead programmer. Bloom Studios was born and all of the guys decided that they wanted to focus on creating environmentally friendly games for kids. The faculty at Tribeca Flashpoint encouraged Andrew to take a look at the Microsoft Imagine Cup and the whole team agreed that the competition would be a great fit since the theme is all about using technology to create a better world.

During the first weeks of the project the team prepared religiously by discussing ideas, doing research, and even making a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago to speak with the staff about environmental sustainability. Team Bloom wanted to create a game targeted towards children because they are more impressionable and will carry ideas of eco-friendliness with them into the future. Andrew wanted the ideas for Project Spero to be customer driven every step of the way. The team went through pre-testing with 50 kids at a nearby school for feedback and suggestions. After implementing the majority of those suggestions over the next month and a half, the team put Spero through a second and much more rigorous round of testing with 200 kids from a different school and grade. The one-on-one feedback helped Team Bloom to refine Project Spero and polish it off for the Imagine Cup – and it worked!

Team Bloom WinnersTeam Bloom was invited to the U.S. Imagine Cup Finals at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington for a weekend of fun and competition. When they got to Seattle, Andrew and the team felt like rock stars! They got to stay at the Westin hotel, got picked up in nice buses to be taken to events and got to tour attractions in the area like Pike Place Market. At the end of the day, Andrew felt so humbled to be in the presence of all the other U.S. Imagine Cup finalists. He stated “just to be there, surrounded by people who have got these great ideas is winning enough for me.” With that said, Team Bloom ended up taking first place in the 2011 U.S. Imagine Cup Game Design category and returned to Chicago with the gold medal under their belts! Even if he didn’t win or get invited to the U.S. Finals, Andrew would still highly recommend the Imagine Cup experience to every student out there. “Don’t hold back, just go do it, there’s no point not to.” says Andrew as he describes the opportunity Microsoft provides with the Imagine Cup. You can preregister for the 2012 Imagine Cup here.

We want to give huge congratulations to Andrew for recently graduating along with his achievements in the Imagine Cup! Andrew has a massive passion for gaming and making the world a better place. He sees himself working in the video game industry as a creative director for the rest of his career. Ideally, he would like to work for a small game studio that develops games with social responsibility at the core. With his big heart and drive we’re sure Andrew will find success in his career and are positive he’ll be running his own top tier game studio in no time!

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Read last month’s Tech Student Profile on Kevin Ballinas