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Sara Cornish is Playing Games for High Stakes

She came to DSI seeking new ways to create social impact, and instantly became a kind of emotional home plate for her cohort; the pioneering first class. She was the connector, the listener, the translator, the always ready smile. It came naturally to her. Now she’s putting all those qualities, as well as what she learned at DSI, to good use as the Senior Director of Program Development and Strategy at Games For Change, the leading organization in the gaming industry for social impact and learning.

After her undergrad in Urban Studies and Sustainable Development, Sara was ready to broaden her horizons.  “The curriculum made so much sense of a lot of the questions I was asking myself about what role can communications play that’s greater than just branding a project? And how can we work with communities instead of for clients?” After speaking with some of the professors, she described DSI as “the path that was going to lead to some really exciting opportunities, aligned with my personal missions and drives in the world.”

Sara initially joined Games for Change to develop a game design competition for students in public schools, teaching them theories and processes and encouraging them to make games about specific issues.  After piloting the program in New York City in 2015 and 2016, the program is now scaling nationally, with Sara leading the expansion.

Sara ties her success directly to her time at DSI, including her interest in games in DSI faculty Asi Burak’s class. “The class and the game design process exemplified the bigger ideas of design that we were learning: prototyping and iteration and user testing. And so it was really exciting to me to practice the design process in such a fun, engaging way that demanded working with and bringing in other people to test our products. It was really, really awesome.”

Sara believes that not only did her learning experiences set her on the right path, but also her friendships and relationships as well. “I think in that first year it was really special. We all knew we were part of something very new and not just new, in terms of a new graduate program. But a new sort of discipline. I think that certainly brought us together as a community or even a family, especially because students came from all over the world.” Learning wasn’t just done in the classroom but 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

In her thesis, Sara incorporated storytelling and community building to re-connect neighbors to the places where they live.  She’s been able to integrate themes from that thesis into current projects.  “I helped design a theme for the student game design challenge that we’re running with The New York Times, telling local neighborhood stories about folks who don’t show up in mainstream media — civic journalism and community driven storytelling.”

As for advice for incoming students, Sara suggests they “Imagine what you want to be doing afterwards and where, for what cause or for what kind of purpose you want to be working instead of just kind of coming in because you vaguely want to do good in the world.”

She did. She has. We are very proud.

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