August 9, 2021

Microsoft Contributes to Gerald A. Lawson Fund

Jerry Lawson

Microsoft’s Xbox Game Studios announced today that it will make a significant contribution to USC Games’ Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund for Black and Indigenous Students, which was established in May with the goal of increasing inclusion and representation in the games and tech industries.  The Fund, which is named for one of the first Black engineers in gaming, offers financial support to Black and Indigenous students pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees in USC’s #1 ranked game design program. Students who receive support from the fund will be known as Lawson Scholars.

The Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund is set up to accept contributions from an unlimited number of companies and individuals who would like to support its mission. Returns from the endowment will support qualifying graduate and undergraduate games program students in both the School of Cinematic Arts and the Viterbi School of Engineering (partners in USC Games), beginning in the Fall 2022 semester. Donations to the fund will be ongoing. The goal is that it will eventually grow to support all aspects of diversity and inclusion in game design education and development, such as research, increased recruitment of underrepresented students, and salary support for Black and Indigenous faculty. Microsoft is pleased to be one of the first supporters of the initiative and hopes its involvement will serve as an inspiration for other companies to join.

“We’re proud to work with USC Games to empower underrepresented communities to succeed in games,” said Matt Booty, Head of Xbox Game Studios at Microsoft. “We’re excited to see what the future generation of game creators will make.”

As with other storytelling media, gaming offers opportunities for marginalized communities to offer their own authentic representations of their histories and cultures. 

Jerry Lawson

“We are determined that USC Games will be a place where diversity is valued and everyone is invited to create and play,” said Jim Huntley, USC Interactive Media & Games’ Professor and Head of Marketing, who led the Lawson Fund’s creation. “As costs continue to increase at all higher education institutions, one of the most significant challenges for students in underrepresented groups is simply ‘how to afford it.’ That’s why Microsoft’s long-standing commitment to diversity, equity & inclusion and Xbox Studios’ support of the Lawson Endowment Fund is so significant to improving their representation in the gaming and tech industries.” 

Gerald A. “Jerry” Lawson led the team that invented interchangeable ROM cartridges used in the Fairchild Channel F, one of the early home gaming consoles that pre-dated the Atari 2600.  Born in 1940 in Brooklyn, New York, he credited his lifelong interest in science to his first-grade teacher, who inspired him with stories about the prolific Black inventor George Washington Carver. Mr. Lawson became one of the few Black engineers in the gaming industry during its inception, when he also developed the arcade game Demolition Derby and was a member of the legendary “Homebrew Computer Club” whose members also included Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

Mr. Lawson, who passed away in April 2011, is posthumously being celebrated for his contributions. A month before he died, he was honored as an industry pioneer by the Interactive Game Developers Association (IGDA).  In 2019, he received the ID@Xbox Gaming Heroes award at the Independent Games Festival, and his contributions are on permanent display at the World Video Game Hall of Fame at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. He is survived by his wife, Catherine, and two adult children, Karen and Anderson, who told his story in High Score, the Netflix documentary series about the developers of early video games.