Education Tech Firm Draws Heavily on Talents of UT Dallas Grads
Alumni Help Design and Market Interactive Games That Help Students Struggling With Math and Reading
Aug. 29, 2013
Sandra Thomas is president and COO of Istation, and Jeremy Roden is director of media production and visual communications. Thomas also serves as chair of the UT Dallas Center for Vital Longevity's Advisory Council.
Bill Fahle BS’88, MSCS’05, PhD’12 writes system code. Dustin Nulf BS’95 engineers audio for voice-overs and animations. Karin Khoo BS’09, MFA’12 works with artists to bring animations to life. And Jeremy Roden, a UT Dallas PhD student, produces videos to promote products.
All four are spokes in the wheel of Istation, an educational technology company in which more than 10 percent of the workforce is made up of University graduates or students. With degrees in arts and technology (ATEC), computer science and business, these alumni are part of a 100-member team that creates interactive games and technology for K-12 students struggling with math and reading.
Located on two floors of the landmark gold-clad Campbell Centre office tower in Dallas, Istation headquarters were quiet on a recent afternoon. In a glassed-in room aptly called the “fishbowl,” 20 or so employees train their eyes on multiple screens, noodling over animations like Justin Time, an Indiana Jones-looking character who uses science to lead students through reading lessons.
The company creates interactive games for K-12 students struggling with math and reading. (Copyright Istation)
What does Justin do when a student pushes the button on his belt? How does he convincingly move through his time portal? These are questions that challenge Khoo, 26, as she programs Istation’s game-like lessons in math, reading and Spanish.
With customers like the Texas Education Agency, which recently contracted with Istation to provide free access of its reading program to all Texas students in third through eighth grades, Khoo’s solutions must be spot on. But the demands don’t bother her: She cut her teeth at UT Dallas.
Audio engineer Dustin Nulf is at home in his sound booth.
“The ATEC program is really broad,” Khoo said. “When I was in it, we had different skill sets as designers, programmers, artists and animators. Our game development section was also excellent.”
Nulf, 40, watches new grads like Khoo with interest. “It’s pretty cool to see them jump right into the production pipeline without worry.” Though his background is programming, it’s his management degree that the audio engineer relies on much of the time. A video game designer, he chose the Naveen Jindal School of Management to learn how to market and sell his wares. He also learned the art of collaboration there, a skill he applies when working with actors on character voices and with writers on music to pair with their scripts. “Everything we do in the company is in a team. Everyone is connected to everyone.”
Where Nulf concentrates on audio, 37-year-old Roden’s focus is strictly visual. He and his creative team executed a marketing strategy for Istation’s messaging and branding last year. Roden’s creative juices began flowing years ago as a lighting technical director on the movie Jimmy Neutron. After teaching high school art and animation for the Dallas Independent School District, he helped build the game design program at Richland Community College. Then he enrolled in ATEC and joined Istation.
When Bill Fahle, senior vice president of development research at Istation, taught in ATEC at UT Dallas, Karin Khoo was his student. She is now a multimedia programmer at Istation.
“UT Dallas has been paying attention to the trends. They know what Dallas-Fort Worth needs,” Roden said. “A lot of people from California are coming to Dallas. Several studios have gone out of business so DFW has a lot of potential for businesses coming this way. UT Dallas will be a great resource for them.”
Among the newer Istation recruits, Fahle, 50, is a bit of a legend—not only because he taught at UT Dallas, has three degrees from the University or is the father of a new graduate — but because Fahle is one of the four engineers who developed the proprietary platform that launched Istation’s original software. His doctorate now also allows him to perform research and seek grants that may help the company fund its developments.
“I’ve been a student at UT Dallas off and on for 20 years,” Fahle said. “The school has grown from being a really good school to a top-notch school.”
And that’s why Istation continues to recruit alumni. “They come in with a high level of education and training and are excited to learn,” said Sandra Thomas, Istation’s president and COO. “They quickly become valuable assets to our workforce.”
This article also appeared in the most recent issue of UT Dallas Magazine.