Growing up in Mulvane, Kansas, Phi Theta Kappa alumna Danielle Rourke had been a gamer since she was a little girl. “I loved it and wanted others to like it with me, especially other girls, but at the time it was predominantly a boy’s activity,” she said.
But now working for multinational technology company Dell Technologies, Danielle is mentoring girls in esports and working with colleges to meet their computing needs.
As a high school student, Danielle was a dedicated gamer and pre-enrolled in a college video game design program when as she said, “life happened.” She dropped out of school because of an unplanned pregnancy, instead earning her GED and almost immediately enrolling in Cowley College.
“I grew up poor – my mom was a single mother who cleaned houses,” Danielle said. “I realized if I had a son to support, I needed to find a job in a good-paying field. “
While at Cowley, Danielle was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa’s Beta Phi Upsilon Chapter. She still remembers how exciting it was to get her PTK membership card in the mail and wear the graduation regalia.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to be a part of the National Honor Society in high school,” she added. “A lot of times dropouts feel defeated, as if they are quitters. Graduating with Phi Theta Kappa honors made me feel like I had finished something, accomplished something.”
After transferring to Southwestern College, where she took most of her classes at night, earning a master’s degree from Capella University and starting her career Danielle continued to enjoy gaming as a hobby, finding it was a great way to spend time with her son.
“I don’t have as much time now, but I still play sometimes,” she said. “If you talk to young people about gaming you have to have that authenticity, or they can see right through you.”
As part of the senior higher education strategy team at Dell Danielle acts as a bridge between the company and educators who use their products. But she also serves as a liaison to Dell’s Girls Who Game initiative, as well as acting as a mentor, speaking to gaming clubs and serving as an esports tournament judge.
According to Statista 45% of all gamers are female, but women are less likely to participate in competitive gaming. Girls Who Game is aimed at girls in fourth through eighth grades.
“Research shows that at this age girls are just as interested in STEM fields as boys, but after that, it wanes,” Danielle said. “We offer mentorship and help them build communities – hoping to keep the love of STEM alive.”
Overall, interest in gaming/esports is growing, with more than 200 colleges currently offering esports programs, some even giving scholarships.
“More universities, and especially community colleges are interested,” Danielle explained. “Most don’t have funds or facilities for big sports programs and community college students often work and have families, but can do esports, so it’s a natural extension.”
She added that esports can also be an interdisciplinary experience across the college and school districts — integrating art students for design, journalism students as shout casters, etc.
“It doesn’t feel like work and they’re learning skills by playing,” she said. “Compared to the cost of other sports it’s very affordable and you can literally turn an existing classroom into a gaming arena.”
“At Catalyst, we wanted to bring esports in the form of free-play and competition, offering scholarships and gaming equipment as prizes, but also to have Dell and local college representatives onsite to share their experiences, and answer questions,” Danielle said.
Dell will provide the equipment for the tournament and esports organizations from throughout Colorado will offer prizes and volunteers.
“We hope that students and faculty come away with a better understanding of how esports help students learn,” she said. “There are soft skills like teamwork, communication, critical thinking and learning to be a good global citizen; but there are also professional competencies they can take into jobs like coding, logistics, working with vendors, facilities management, and audiovisual skills.”
Although Danielle is a long-time PTK member she’s excited to experience Catalyst for the first time and sees it as an opportunity to give back.
“I would not be where I am today without community college,” she said. “I’m passionate about community colleges – they are a great place to start your life and career.”
Coming to Catalyst and want to join in the fun? Register for the esports tournament or just drop by and check out the gaming action in the Juniper Ballroom.