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Horizons Faculty of Excellence Awards

Although Horizons was created to highlight student work, none of it would be possible without the support and leadership of phenomenal faculty and instructors.

Awardees are selected for Excellence in one of three categories: teaching, innovation, and service. Faculty are eligible to be nominated by a peer or self-nominated and nominations are open to any faculty or instructor working in games, regardless of whether their school participated in Horizons. Awardees are selected by the Horizons Executive Committee after careful consideration of each nominee. 

    Horizons is designed to support, highlight, and enhance the work done across games education––for students, professors, researchers, educators, and administrators. Educators and schools are the foundation that supports student growth and flourishing. Horizons wants to recognize this crucial role and highlight the importance of educators in the games ecosystem.


    • Teaching: This award is for an individual who has made an important impact in their work as a teacher and educator.
    • Service: This award is for an individual who has made important and impactful contributions to the field through service.
    • Innovation: This award is for any individual with an innovative approach, conducting innovative research, and/or fostering innovation in others.

    Eligibility and Nomination Process

    • Any and all game educators working in higher education are eligible. They do not need to be affiliated with an institution participating in Horizons. They do not need to be working at an institution of higher education; however, they must be working within the field of games and higher education.
    • Self-nominations are welcome.

    Sonia Michaels is the Chair of the Humanities and Social Sciences Department at DigiPen Institute of Technology, working at the intersection of the Humanities and game development education to promote the importance of critical thinking, cultural literacy, and communication across the creative process. She has taught English (composition, literature, and science fiction/fantasy), professional communication, and public speaking for 30+ years, and has worked extensively as a career coach and admissions consultant. Soniahas presented at GDC, PaxDev, GeekGirlCon, and the New Directions in the Humanities International Conference. In April of this year, she completed a three-year elected term on the Board of Directors of the International Game Developers Association.

    Jim Huntley is a Marketing and Brand Management Executive with over 20 years of experience leading teams across multiple industries. A lifelong gamer, he worked professionally at THQ for nearly 5 years as their VP of Marketing. He is an Associate Professor in the top-ranked Games Program in North America, USC Games. While there, he has led the development of their official esports organization, USC Trojan Esports, created the Gerald A Lawson Fund for Black and Indigenous Students, and is Lead Faculty for the program’s capstone class, Advanced Games Projects (AGP).

    Lien B. Tran (she/her) is an Assistant Professor at DePaul University and director of Matters at Play lab, a transdisciplinary design lab partnering in the creation of interactive advocacy solutions for positive social transformations. She is an award-winning social impact and interaction designer, who creates interactive solutions at the intersections of social justice, health, and environment at the local, national, and international levels. Lien applies design thinking and human center design techniques in order to create informed, goal-directed solutions including games, apps, websites, and emerging technologies such as VR. Her work often addresses and advocates for underrepresented, marginalized communities. Previous project partnerships include Open Society Foundations, World Bank, United Nations, and Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.

    Bob De Schutter is an award-winning game designer, researcher, educator, and advocate for meaningful play in later life. He is a Professor of Applied Game Design at Northeastern University, where he is jointly appointed between the College of Arts, Media and Design and the Khoury College of Computer Sciences. He is also the owner of award-winning game company Lifelong Games (LLC). His work focuses on the importance of play throughout the entire lifespan and speaks out against the stereotyping of older video game players in game design and marketing.

    Frans Mäyrä is the Professor of Information Studies and Interactive Media, with specialization in digital culture and game studies in Tampere University, Finland. Since 2002, he has been heading the Tampere University Game Research Lab, having taught and studied digital culture and games from the early 1990s. He is widely consulted as an expert in socio-cultural issues relating to games, play and playfulness, and has served as the founder and first President of DiGRA – Digital Games Research Association. His research interests range from game cultures, meaning making through playful interaction and online social play, to borderlines, identity, as well as transmedial fantasy and science fiction. He is also the director of the Academy of Finland funded Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies.

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