Major in Digital and Interactive Narrative Design combines interests in programming, storytelling

Computer science and English can be found at most universities, but Pitt has created a special major that combines the two for students seeking to create immersive media experiences in a wide variety of fields.

Students interested in computer programming, while sharing a passion for writing composition and storytelling, now have the option of pursuing both, majoring in Pitt’s Digital Narrative and Interactive Design. Students could officially start declaring this major last year after a few prerequisite courses.

The 40-credit DNID major is one of four majors offered jointly by the School of Computing and Information and the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. Introductory Computer Science courses provide students with basic coding and software development skills, while incorporating narrative work and media studies from the English department.

Adam Lee, Professor of Computer Science, stressed the importance of communication between his department and the English department in the early stages of the development of the DNID major. He said the collaboration was crucial in creating a common academic program that mutually benefits from the expertise of both departments.

“By bringing these [departments] together we might consider preparing students to understand this intersection between storytelling and technology, ”said Lee. “And so, it could create engaging technology and media, or it could provide stories that come to the fore and make sense of the technology we’re developing. ”

The major has three different tracks. The Online Media track is intended for students interested in developing digital content and online media. The Game Design track deals specifically with game production, advertising, and the narrative experience of gameplay. The Critical Making track focuses on coding as it relates to social contexts and relationships.

Alexander Grattan, a senior DNID major, was drawn to Pitt specifically for the DNID major and is now taking classes on the Critical Making track.

“I was interested in the transfer and saw it pop up while I was doing my research on school, and to me it was like the clouds were parting,” said Grattan. “I already had the idea to switch to Pitt and it confirmed it to me until the Major.”

Grattan is the director of public relations for the Computer Club, and regularly designs social media posts and websites. He said Pitt’s narrative technology course had helped him develop skills that he now uses in his work outside of class.

“We have just learned so many different things about the technology and the ways you can manipulate the medium of literature., and expressing the word and text in different ways, ”said Grattan. “I learned a lot of things in this course. It was super interesting and something that I try to explore with some of the work I do in web design.

When she first discovered the Information Science major and the DNID major, Heather Dillman was also a student in the storytelling and tech class. As a former computer science major, Dillman felt her interests were not fully satisfied there and she needed to look for something else.

“I spent the first year and a half at Pitt and thought that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do,” Dillman said. “It was pretty analytical and competitive. It was more of a traditional major and I felt like I needed something more suited to my personal interests like graphic design or web development, not so much the difficult programming stuff.

Lee said there is an abundance of credit and non-credit opportunities to help students market themselves and develop their work placement skills.

“We regularly post job vacancies, connect people with research opportunities in school and on campus. And work closely with the Career Center to host career fairs that target IT and data-driven disciplines, ”Lee said. “And we have a corporate engagement team that brings in corporate partners to have lunch with the students and review resumes.”

Dillman regularly attended networking events through the school, such as a hackathon, where she was able to connect with PNC Bank and later intern with them in Pittsburgh last summer. She has helped develop some of their applications and has since been offered a full time position in their technology development program.

“One of the first I went to in my sophomore year PNC had a sponsor booth there, it was the first time I learned more about them,” said Dillman. “I did not participate in the second year summer internship program, but I applied the following year knowing that I had more technology experience under my belt, and that’s when – there they accepted me for my first year internship program. “

With a combination of English and computer science courses, Lee said the DNID major is quite different from the more traditional majors in the School of Computing and Information.

“It provides the same common computing background that you’ll need to do a lot of things,” Lee said. “But then, allow students to choose the IT expertise they want to acquire, assuming a close coupling with skills in the English department. “

Lee said the major equips students with a different skill set compared to other majors in the school.

“I would say these students are much better prepared for communication, storytelling, and critical thinking than your stereotypical computer science or information science student,” Lee said. “But the depth that you are going to take in terms of technical course work is necessarily going to be different.”

Dillman said the major’s courses resemble a seminar structure, which leads to deeper conversations and a better overall understanding of the material.

“We’ll have time to work on paper or media components or review the readings we’ve done for the week,” Dillman said. “It’s more interactive with your classmates chatting and this kind of lesson really helps deepen things. “

Grattan also agreed that with smaller classes he feels more involved with the material and with the work his classmates are doing.

“There are about 20 people in there so I would say it’s a comfortable size,” Grattan said. “But you always get different perspectives from people and that’s good in that sense that I can see different projects that people do and create.”

Collaboration between departments was key to making the major a reality, according to Lee. He said seeing the partnership and the projects created by the students was the best part of his experience in the DNID major.

“It’s really cool to see the students and the types of projects they come up with,” Lee said. “The collaborations they establish with students from both schools are my favorite part. “

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