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Technical High teacher wins national award

March 04, 2007|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN

Martin Nikirk fields a lot of questions about the program that he teaches at Washington County Technical High School.

A popular one, he said, is: "So, they play video games all day?"

No way, Nikirk said. Students are enrolled in an instructional program that models industry training in the field of gaming, setting them up to make big bucks after college.

It is that pilot program, now in its third year, that led to a national award that Nikirk will receive at the end of the month.

Nikirk, who teaches advanced computer applications, will receive the Distinguished Service Award presented by the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium.

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Officials said Nikirk was nominated and selected for creating the computer game development and animation program at the high school that has received praise from Microsoft executives.

Nikirk, who lives in Hagerstown, will be honored March 23 at the Stars of Education Awards Ceremony in Washington D.C.

"Washington County is fortunate to have teachers of (Nikirk's) caliber providing instruction in our schools," Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said. "He is an exemplary teacher who deserves recognition for his exceptional efforts."

Nikirk, in his fifth year at the Technical High School, said he began his teaching career as an art teacher.

He teaches about 24 students the 16 components of computer game design with a focus on teamwork and problem solving.

Students enrolled in the pilot program in their junior year learn game concept development, interactive storytelling, writing documentation, developing characters, programming, recording audio and video, marketing and publishing, Nikirk said.

Students in their senior year work mostly in teams to design, pitch, write master design documents, and build and produce computer games, he said.

Because Nikirk said he wants to prepare his students for careers in the gaming industry, his students only produce games that are rated for everyone or early childhood, which are the most popular games on the market.

Once they have created the video games, Nikirk said his students pitch the games, including information about who would purchase the game.

"It's the same format as a company," he said. "How is (the game) unique? What about playability and marketing?"

As Nikirk and the program receive more recognition, he said he receives many job offers.

But he isn't interested.

He enjoys interacting with his students, and Nikirk is proud of what they are achieving.

All of his students, he said, go on to college after high school, many to a program at Hagerstown Community College.

"It's the brightest and the best that are hired (in the gaming industry)," he said. "And that's what I'm trying to foster here."

Washington County Technical High School Principal Jeffrey Stouffer described Nikirk as dedicated and creative.

"His game-design program is becoming very popular. We have almost 60 students interested in advanced computer applications for next year," Stouffer said.

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