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DigiPen celebrates new, bigger location on Willows Road

Around 500 students, faculty, regional leaders and community members gathered Aug. 27 for a grand opening celebration at DigiPen Institute of Technology's new, comprehensive campus at 9931 Willows Rd. NE in Redmond.

Redmond has been home to DigiPen since 1998 but until now, its students were split between two buildings, one in the Overlake neighborhood and another near downtown Redmond. The new campus on Willows Road, with more than 100,000 square feet of space, allows students from all of DigiPen's degree programs in real-time interactive simulation, game design, computer engineering, computer science and digital art and animation, as well as high school students from the Washington Network for Innovative Careers (WaNIC) to matriculate under one roof.

Students travel from all over the United States and other countries to access DigiPen's rigorous academic programs, taught by world-class faculty. DigiPen students have won 32 awards in worldwide competitions and events, including 27 from the International Game Festival (IGF), an achievement which is unparalleled in the field of game design. As a result, DigiPen graduates are eagerly sought by game development companies and animation studios such as Disney and Pixar.

VISIONARY GENIUS

Before last week's ribbon-cutting, Raymond Yan, chief operating officer of DigiPen, remarked, "Twenty years ago, I met this very peculiar person by the name of Claude Comair, who shared with me this vision for a place where serious and passionate people, who want to get into the game industry, can come to pursue that dream."

Comair founded DigiPen in his basement in Vancouver, B.C. and moved the school to Redmond with much encouragement from then-Washington governor Gary Locke and staff at Redmond-based Nintendo of America. The close relationship with Nintendo has continued to this day.

Robin Walker, a chief software developer at Bellevue-based Valve Games, stated, "Game development is becoming more teachable and institutions like DigiPen are at the forefront of that."

DigiPen students succeed, Walker said, because they are "making lots and lots of games, seeing how real players act when they play games. DigiPen students are taught to approach games holistically."

In fact, DigiPen students were key to the creation of one of Valve's most successful games, "Portal."

Walker noted, "These students are incredibly capable. Our company today is stronger than it's ever been, thanks in part to DigiPen graduates."

BOOSTING LOCAL BUSINESS

Also at the grand opening event, State Sen. Eric Oemig, who represents the 45th Legislative District, said that when he first moved to Redmond from Wisconsin, he often drove by the original DigiPen building, yet knew nothing about it or why anyone would want to go there.

But a nephew visiting from the Midwest begged to check out DigiPen, informing Oemig, "It's like the Harvard of the game industry, but not stuffy."

Said Oemig, "As a state policy maker in business, in college and in public schools, I know that just telling someone what they're going to do, just getting them to pass a test, doesn't go very far. I would like to, as a state policy maker, clone this as a school that's inspiring them, exciting them, letting their creativity explode into high-paying jobs in our area."

King County Executive Dow Constantine agreed, "Game design requires in-depth training, a marriage between computer engineering and art. DigiPen provides practical experience from start to finish. ... There are now about 150 game companies in the state of Washington, many of them boosting the local economy, providing job and career paths that didn't exist a decade ago."

Redmond Mayor John Marchione commented, "Part of the job of mayor is to brag about your city. People are usually shocked that Microsoft isn't the first or only high-tech company here."

Marchione praised Aerojet, Nintendo and DigiPen as other organizations which draw students with strong backgrounds in math and science.

"And as a humanities major, I've very much appreciated the marriage of art and science at DigiPen," said Marchione. He read a proclamation designating Aug. 27, 2010 as "DigiPen Day in the City of Redmond."

Yan read a letter of congratulations from Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire. He then introduced Claude Comair, who explained, "This new building is just a machine to build people. They will go through their phases, go through steps ... to see the light at the end of the tunnel. This starts from day one. We have made a promise to the industry, to the students, to the parents, that we will never compromise. We will never graduate a student that will make us ashamed. If you don't like them, return them. We have a better return policy than any supermarket."

NEW AMENITIES

During a tour of the new DigiPen campus, Yan pointed out amenities that were missing at the old buildings, including a full-service cafeteria and a large production area where teams of programmers and creative designers can brainstorm on project ideas.

"Before, collaborative projects were very difficult" said Yan. "Students can interact much more freely here — and they don't have to leave the campus to find something to eat. Students are typically here all day long, working very hard and they want to get good quality food."

At the new DigiPen building, there's also a recreation room and many open spaces where students can display their work.

This year, the City of Redmond's Digital Arts Festival will take place at the new DigiPen campus. In previous years, some of those events were held at DigiPen and others at Redmond High School, because there wasn't enough space to incorporate everything in the same place.

The new DigiPen campus formerly was occupied by Microsoft. DigiPen redesigned the interior to best suit its needs and currently occupies all of the first and second floors as well as part of the third floor.

There's more room to grow as enrollment grows.

For more information about DigiPen Institute of Technology, call (425) 558-0299 or visit www.digipen.edu.

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