NAECAD Interview: Dr. BerNadette Lawson-Williams, Johnson C. Smith University

April 15, 2022

Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) made history as the first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) to offer an Esports and Gaming Management academic program. Dr. BerNadette Lawson-Williams is the founder and an advisor of the program.

NAECAD had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Lawson-Williams to discuss JCSU Esports and Gaming Trifecta.

What is the current state of JCSU Esports and Gaming Trifecta?

Dr. Lawson-Williams: “Our esports and gaming trifecta consists of the first HBCU Esports and Gaming Management academic program and certificate program. A state-of-the-art esports lab, a game development club, and our highly competitive esports club continues to thrive. We were established in February of 2020. We have ascertained several superlatives, including being nominated for the 2021 Esports Award of the Year for our esports and gaming trifecta.

We've collaborated with innumerable corporate sponsors and partners, including Riot Games, Nacon Gaming. We have also worked with EA and many other companies, some that have not been revealed yet, but will soon come to the surface.

Our students compete every week. They've been invited to several in-person competitions and are currently competing in several leagues. In addition, we compete in several esports. However, our most successful esport is Call of Duty. 

We have defeated several Power five varsity programs, and we're excited because we're a club. For a club to beat a varsity program is phenomenal.

We're continuing to thrive and continue to increase our visibility, as well as connectivity with corporations and community agencies in Charlotte, throughout the nation, and now globally.”

How are you educating parents and students about JCSU Esports and Gaming Trifecta?

Dr. Lawson-Williams: “At least twice a year, we interact with both parents and gamer scholars. Whether they're prospective students interested in JCSU, but either have not declared or have not been admitted into the University. We must educate parents because many parents still see esports and gaming as a waste of time. Our academic program is leading with the arm of academia, which is why we're always successful in winning over our parents because they ultimately want to know: 1) how our program can assist their children in being successful while in college? and 2) what types of career opportunities are their kids going to have? We have over 20 students enrolled in our academic program now. Our minor program has grown 200% over the past two years.

Parents are seeing that their students can have the best of both worlds, while gaming, they are growing and understanding the industry, especially the business side of it. Their students are also reaping the benefits of gaming because they’re now able to see the fruits of their labor come from what they've been doing passionately, probably every day in their household, gaming day and night..

Again, that's just a part of our educational cycle for parents and students as well. So often, students know that they love the game, but don't understand the dynamics of the career opportunities that exist for them.”

What impact have you seen, so far, on students involved in JCSU Esports and Gaming Trifecta?

Dr. Lawson-Williams: “Five of our students were selected for an internship with Riot Games last summer. Those students had the opportunity to work next to one another along with other student interns outside of JCSU. They learned every aspect of the industry and the company. Many were sold on Riot Games esports, and now play Valorant or League of Legends. So, that's one of the immediate signs that students are experiencing success.

Students are also working in the community. We have some students who are working with Stay Plugged In, which means we are now connected with the Charlotte Phoenix professional team here in Charlotte. The experiential learning activities and experiencing hands-on opportunities to become engaged in esports and gaming is another sign of how positive the impact of our program has been.

We currently have 75 students within our esports and gaming trifecta. This is a combined number that captures our academic program, certificate program, game development club, and esports club. We know that every student is experiencing some level of success or positive impact, whether it's from the recreational or competitive side of gaming or the game development.

From every facet, we're seeing that our program is successful and that it's working, and it's all about the students. It's about our gamer-scholars thriving, about them being able to take advantage of managing the opportunities that are bestowed upon them. It’s also about us connecting with industry leaders to create those opportunities for them, and I think that's what we're most excited about, the actual impact that our trifecta has on our Gamer scholars.”

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