In partnership with Xbox, we’re thrilled to announce the inaugural cohort for the Next Gen Leaders program. Through this initiative, we’re excited to support inclusivity in game development through an innovative leadership program that includes an all-access pass to GDC, generously provided by UBM, a two-day summit for personal and professional development, a travel stipend, and a mentor individually selected to help the program participant achieve their professional goals.
These exceptional developers, who are also members of under-represented minorities in game development, have shown a profound commitment to their craft and community. They represent the future of game development, and we are very excited to support them in their development careers.
Please join us in congratulating the 2017 Next Gen Leaders.
Brian S. Chung is a game designer, artist, and educator.
He is the codirector of the game development studio The Sheep’s Meow, which also doubles as a community organization that supports creators of games and interactive art in New Jersey and New York City. Their mission is to support local developers, make game creation inclusive & accessible, and help people get started making their own games.
His games have been played by millions of players worldwide. His professional design work has included serving as the lead game designer and manager of the design team at Fantage, a virtual world with over 30 million players; game designer at Sony Online Entertainment, working on EverQuest; and game designer & user experience designer of apps, websites, and games for a wide range of clients, such as LEGO, PowerBar, and PETA. His game installation and performance art has exhibited internationally at the Stedelijk Museum ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Museum of the Moving Image, Babycastles Gallery, Come Out & Play Festival, and more.
He is currently a visiting professor of Creative Arts & Technology at Bloomfield College, where he helps direct the undergraduate game development program.
Caroline Guevara is a Production Coordinator for the Mobile Games Department at Cartoon Network Digital. She is in charge of creating free and premium titles for the mobile market and web with the lovable quirky characters of current Cartoon Network shows. She got to this point by pursuing her longtime love of video games with a B.F.A. in Computer Game Design from George Mason University and a M.S. in Digital Media from Drexel University.
Ever since she was young, Caroline was always seen playing with a dusty Sega Genesis or drawing new characters inspired from games or anime. The collection of games, handhelds and consoles grew and only pushed her to pursue what she had always dreamed of doing – creating games for the world to enjoy. From her graduate studies, Caroline still has an interest in games that teach socioeconomic issues and/or engage the player with moral choices – such as “Papers, Please” or others as simple as Bioshock that deliver different scenarios based on story branches chosen. Her ultimate goal as her career develops is to be a creative director.
Jennifer Ashiru is an Associate Games Producer at Cartoon Network Games, where she produces fun and innovative mobile games for a TV network that she grew up watching as a kid. She’s responsible for working with and directing the efforts of key stakeholders and third party developers through all phases of development. Her love for gaming stems heavily from visual storytelling in games — some might even say she’s a huge point and click nerd.
Jennifer holds a BA in Art History/Visual Arts and a minor in Computer Science from Emory University. This combination of coursework allowed her to design her own program, exploring and creating games from a unique perspective. Additionally, Jennifer’s efforts have led her to work with and develop the growing games and media-focused interests of various students from SCAD, Georgia Tech, and Emory.
Jesseca Lee is a game designer at Jam City in San Francisco where she is busily making mobile magic. She is wildly excited about the democratization of play through the proliferation of portable devices.
Jesseca got her start in games by connecting with the grassroots development community in her hometown of Miami before moving to New York City to study with Code Liberation. She then traveled west to California, created an award-winning prototype about infinitely gardening space deer at GXDev, and got to speak about her journey at GaymerX.
Currently, Jesseca designs puzzles and interactive narratives with Jam City. A writer of fiction by academic training, she is incredibly passionate about storytelling in new mediums. Interactivity augments the human capacity for empathy in a way that Jesseca feels is particularly critical to both games as an industry and to narrative as a craft.
As a self-proclaimed futurist, Jesseca is very enthusiastic about virtual reality and the new design challenges posited by play in three-dimensional virtual arenas. She hopes to pioneer the application of AR/VR in mental health treatment, particularly with regards to assisting survivors of trauma in their healing processes. Jesseca seeks to use VR to construct experiences which explore the ways engaging in play can build and strengthen self-efficacy,
Her favorite game is Ico.
Juan Vaca is an American game designer at Telltale Games in Northern California. He is an advocate for authentic representation in storytelling. Juan believes the player agency created in games can be a powerful tool for empathy.
Juan graduated with honors from the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California with a degree in Interactive Entertainment. He credits his success to the discipline and life skills he learned while in the Marines.
As a mental health advocate, he shares advice, feedback, and his experiences via social media and as a speaker on mental health panels at conventions. He volunteers with Stack-Up.org assisting other veterans and service members in the gaming community.
His credits include: Telltale’s The Walking Dead Series, Tales from the Borderlands, Batman, The Amazing Spider-Man: The Game, Avengers: Battle for Earth, and Deadpool. He is currently writing his memoirs from his time in the service as a Marine sniper.
Juan can be found on his couch watching movies, playing games, or reading comics. He also plays the jug, yes, jug and baritone horn for The Rivertown Skifflers, “The Best Jug Band in the Bay Area,” according to him.
Karen McCarthy is a 3D character artist who currently works at EA Sports in Orlando, Florida. Before this she was an artist at Hapa Games and helped release the game Ascendant while working closely with a small team. She has worked on several titles in only a few years including NBA Live, PGA Tour, and Madden. She holds a Master’s of Science degree in Interactive Entertainment from Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy (FIEA).
Most of Karen’s time is spent creating art and games, but when she is not working on her computer tan she enjoys playing soccer and learning ballroom dancing. She hopes to always be involved in the game development community and to be a helping hand for students interested in or learning game development.
Leena van Deventer
Leena van Deventer is a game developer and writer from Melbourne, Australia. She has taught interactive storytelling at RMIT and Swinburne Universities and in 2016 published her first book, “Game Changers: From Minecraft to Misogyny, the fight for the future of videogames” with Dr Dan Golding for Affirm Press.
Leena has worked in a freelance capacity on many games, including her role as Senior Copywriter on Cannes Gold Lion Award winning “Run That Town” for the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and was a narrative consultant on the “Twists & Turns” app for the 2014 Melbourne Writers Festival, featuring choose-your-own-adventure stories geotagged to the laneways of Melbourne. In 2013 Leena co-founded WiDGET, a grassroots feminist organisation supporting women and non-binary game developers. WiDGET supports over 700 members, and is poised in 2017 to “level up” its fundraising and research efforts, and its organisational structure. In 2015, Leena received the inaugural “Pioneer Award” at the MCV Pacific Women in Games Awards for the woman who has “over time helped paved the way for women in gaming and helped build the Australian and New Zealand game industries”. She is grateful to continue this work with the help of the IGDA Foundation.
Llaura Ash McGee
Llaura Ash McGee is a multi-award winning Irish artist, designer and video game maker. As ‘DREAMFEEL’ she makes strange, wonderful, intense games. Perhaps best known for ‘CURTAIN’, the story of a destructive relationship between two queer women in a Glasgow punk band. In 2015 ‘CURTAIN’ won AMaze Berlin’s Grand Prize and the Writers Guild of Ireland’s first ever Best Game Script.
Llaura is currently working on ‘Infinite Notebook’, shortlisted for the New Media Writing Prize, and ‘If Found, Please Return’, which in 2016 won three awards and a commendation in the Irish Design Awards including their first ever Game Design award, the Emerging Talent award and the overall Grand Prix.
Llaura Ash has also been nominated for BAFTA Scotland’s New Talent in Games and twice been chosen as an IGDA Scholar. Her work, interactive art installations, like ‘Fluc’ and ‘Amari’, and her performances have been shown in dozens of places across Europe and America such as Somerset House, London; Babycastles, New York; Indiecade, Los Angeles; and UC Berkeley, California. She currently lectures in DIT while running her independent games studio in Dublin with talented folks such as Liadh Young. Lastly but not leastly, she thinks you’re cool.
Rebecca Cohen-Palacios is the co-founder and director of Pixelles (Montreal), a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering more women-in-games through free programs, mentorship, and community love + support. She speaks often about diversity, community organizing, and empowerment through game-making.
She also loves to teach accessible workshops, mentor others, and collaborate with other organizations to help make STEM a more welcoming place. Annually, Rebecca co-organizes the games unconference, Game Loop Montreal, which facilitates open discourse about game development, culture, and methodologies.
Professionally, Rebecca is a hybrid UI artist/developer currently working on an unannounced title at Ubisoft Montreal. She’s shipped Shape Up (for Kinect) and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. Before getting into game development, Rebecca spent six years designing user interfaces for apps, websites, and digital experiences.