Editor’s note: As part of CSUSB’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the university is showcasing a number of earlier stories highlighting Hispanic and Latino students, alumni, faculty and staff.
This article was originally published on March 27, 2020.
For Cal State San Bernardino alumnus and adjunct professor Andre Adame, video games are more than just an enjoyable pastime, but an activity that has led him on a rewarding academic journey.
Adame, who graduated from CSUSB in 2019 with his master’s in communication studies, has been accepted to the highly competitive doctoral program at University of California, Irvine’s School of Informatics – an opportunity that will be fully funded.
“It’s incredibly surreal to me that the informatics program values my potential to the extent that they are willing to fully fund my time there,” said Adame, who had an overall 3.95 GPA at CSUSB. “I’m used to working hard for what I want to pursue, but the competitive nature of the program meant that hard work alone wouldn’t be enough. I feel like my passion was rewarded, and it feels incredibly gratifying.”
Adame will study video games in the Ph.D. program starting this September. More specifically, he will focus on the human/computer relationship that promotes engagement and how that can be applied to promoting greater opportunities for learning.
Ahlam Muhtaseb, professor of communication studies who served as Adame’s mentor during his graduate studies, describes him as a “go-getter.”
“In terms of his academic achievements, Andre was one of our best graduate students,” Muhtaseb said. “In class, he was an active participant who raised excellent discussion points and provided some thoughtful examples and analyses of discussion topics.”
Under Muhtaseb’s mentorship, Adame conducted research on immersion in virtual reality (VR). Before really diving in, he first had to spend a significant amount of time researching definitions, “because that area alone is a bit of a jumbled mess.”
“Once I was able to get a handle on those, I got to the fun part: talking about VR games with gamers,” he said. “They shared about their experiences with VR, what helped them feel more immersed, what pulled them out of the experience, and the little moments that made them want to stay in the VR environment.”
From there, Adame drafted a questionnaire that encompassed the prior research and the coded elements of the conversation to gather data from VR gamers across the internet.
“It was my first in-depth experience in working with quantitative data, and I loved the process of interpreting it,” he said. “The numbers started to form a consistent pattern aligning with the conversations: VR doesn't ‘drag’ people into experiences; it entices them.”
This research was included in Adame’s thesis, “Fully Immersed, Fully Present: Examining the User Experience Through the Multimodal Presence Scale and Virtual Reality Gaming Variables.” It further explored how people who play video games perceive their experiences in virtual reality games, and the similarities and differences between terminology used to describe both experiences (“presence” for VR and “immersion” for games), while also comparing the scales used to measure each experience.
“Sort of by accident, the thesis emphasized the importance of the player’s own willingness and desire to become involved with the experience,” Adame said.
“As the chair of his graduate committee, Andre successfully defended his cutting-edge thesis,” said Muhtaseb, who was also impressed by Adame’s independence during his master’s program.
“Andre enrolled in training workshops on data analysis beyond what was provided to him in research method classes and independently collected, categorized and analyzed his quantitative and qualitative data with very little help from me and his graduate committee,” she said.
Mihaela Popescu, CSUSB professor of communication studies, agrees.
“Working with his advisor, Dr. Muhtaseb, Andre identified what he needed to learn to complete his project, took courses outside the program, read massively, and opened himself up to new experiences,” she said.
As a graduate student, Adame interned in the university’s Academic Technologies & Innovation (ATI) VR Lab, which Popescu co-founded.
“When Andre decided to do an independent study on virtual reality, the ATI VR Lab was in its infancy,” said Popescu, who is also the faculty director of ATI. “Andre, who has a gaming background, became interested in how people experience immersion in VR.”
The lab staff, according to Popescu, saw Adame frequently, where he would ask a lot of questions and experiment with the VR gear.
“I cannot overstate how incredible it is that CSUSB has a VR Lab with some of the latest equipment readily available for use,” Adame said. “My introduction to Dr. Popescu and the VR Lab was really a defining moment in the direction of my research, and I wouldn’t have such amazing opportunities available to me now if it not for them.”
Popescu is “not at all surprised” that UC Irvine has accepted him into its program, and says Adame not only draws on personal experience and deep understanding of what gaming in VR means, but has accumulated considerable scholarly expertise.
“Through conference presentations and a brilliant thesis,” Popescu said, “he has demonstrated that he can advance knowledge in an understudied but exciting new area.”
Adame, who was selected as the 2017 outstanding graduate student in CSUSB’s communication studies department, presented three different papers at three different conferences between 2015 and 2017. He was also twice awarded the CSUSB Instructionally Related Activities (IRA) travel grant for $1,000, something Muhtaseb says is “indeed a very impressive intellectual production for a master’s student.”
With Adame’s academic success in an up-and-coming area, Popescu says he has set a high standard for students following him in the field.
“Andre has modeled academic success for many new graduate students in the program,” Popescu said. “We are seeing a growing interest in the study of emerging technologies and a renewed motivation to pursue research leading to an academic career. I am sure that many more success stories will follow!”
In addition to video games, Adame has a talent for teaching, and was a graduate teaching associate from 2016 to 2019, where he was in charge of teaching two sections of public speaking classes. He then became a CSUSB adjunct professor in fall 2019.
“I have loved my experiences as an educator thus far,” he said, “and hope to continue to be a part of the conversations that I am passionate about – both in and out of the classroom.”