Meet Our Faculty: Introducing Renata Ballo

written by Georgia Schumacher 12 July 2013

Renata Ballo Teaching Philosophy

Comic created by Renata Ballo to express her teaching philosophy.

Renata Ballo joined the Media Arts & Animation program faculty at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division in 2007, bringing years of professional experience in merging traditional and digital animation to create interactive and engaging user experiences. Most recently, Renata has been researching the use of storytelling in child therapy.

“Stories are an integral part of our lives. They are interwoven with human culture, the learning process and societal values. Stories and metaphors have a unique ability to empower through healing,” Renata says. “My work with therapeutic storytelling has so far been my most rewarding experience outside of teaching and something I’m very passionate about.”

Renata didn’t plan to become an instructor, but after teaching one course and then another and another, she realized she enjoys the experience and how it challenges her to stay current with her skills as well as her technical and industry knowledge. The profession, she says, gives her fulfillment and interacting with students is refreshing and inspirational.

As expressed in her comic above, seeing students develop self awareness is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of her job. “Helping students gain a more conscious artistic awareness and a better understanding of the learning and creative processes is, for me, one of the most satisfying experiences in teaching. This kind of mindfulness equips students with tools that will serve them in life, not only in class,” she says.

She adds, “It allows them to revise their plan of action, decide what areas they need to focus on the most, and determine how to move forward. It is not easy to tell someone who worked very hard that they still have room for improvement, but there is a moment when it clicks for students, when they become very receptive to feedback.”

Renata also aims to teach her students the importance of networking, often hosting live class meetings via Skype or social media. She says, “Networking is a crucial part of an artist’s life, not only because it leads to finding projects and professional opportunities but also because it enables engagement with the ever evolving industry.”

She also encourages her students to collaborate on projects as well as to meet other artists in-person or online—experiences, she says, which help students to create relationships beyond the boundaries of the classroom.

Renata also suggests that students look for a mentor to guide them along the way. “Find someone you admire--someone who is willing to assist you, keep you accountable, help you stay on track, inspire you, lend a hand when you need support, give you constructive feedback when you do poorly, and congratulate you when you do well,” she advises.

Renata holds an MFA in Graphics and Multimedia with a specialty in Animation Direction from the National Academy of Fine Arts in Poland. She also participates in Women in Animation, ACM SIGGRAPH and Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

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Gamers, You CAN Make a Difference!

written by Georgia Schumacher 21 January 2013

Attention, gamers! Dr. Natalie Hruska, a faculty member at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division, started a club to talk about games that you as a group can design and develop to evoke real, positive change. Have you heard of the “Games for Change” organization? Here is Dr. Hruska’s low down on the group and why you should care:

What is “Games for Change”?

Dr. Hruska: Founded in 2004, Games for Change is a non-profit organization that facilitates the creation and distribution of social impact games that serve as critical tools in humanitarian and educational efforts.

What does “social impact game” mean?

Dr. Hruska: It means the game would make an impact on society in some way, and I think this would connote this impact is positive. For example, make the environment cleaner or making people happier. They want to improve aspects of our world like how we work, health, and our interaction with the environment. There are just certain things that technology can do that they would otherwise not be able to accomplish, like facilitate learning about a condition or motivating a person to take care of a disorder like depression. The added interactivity and calling on all the senses might facilitate motivation and learning.

How do these games serve as tools in humanitarian and educational efforts?

Dr. Hruska: Do a search engine search and you will find that social games are used in a variety of ways to serve a variety of causes.


  • Check the Games for Change website. Here you will find games organized by age and social impact area, like ‘conflict’, ‘art and empathy’, ‘human rights’, and ‘youth produced’.
  • Non profit organizations and medical websites often havemultimedia, education, children, or games page. You canyou will probably find a game or some other kind of interactive media on these pages.
  • The FBI and the CIA use games to entertain educate. Check out CIA Interactive, for example::
  • - I was surprised to find a game about how to run a POW camp. I ended up playing the game and I was educated about international law.


Why should students get involved - what are the benefits?

Dr. Hruska: Three major benefits that come to mind

  • Fun, community interaction - besides sharing resources and links to games that are already out there- I would like to the group to make their own game- a game we can submit to Games for Change for others to play. Members of the Art Insitute of Pittsburgh – Online Division Games for Change Group might also meet some friends (and references).
  • Gain Skills- People with some knowledge of the connection between game play and social impact might find many opportunities as they enter the workplace, whether planning the concept, defining the functionality, writing a script, designing, developing, or something else.
  • Introduction to the Industry. Our country is growing ‘older’. There might be more demand for health related games. Studies have shown that game play in areas like memory training and sensory health can have positive outcomes. People like the interactivity and entertainment factor of these social impact games.


How can being involved like this work with a student’s education goals?

Dr. Hruska: There is nothing wrong with finding an interest and making it part of your education. When I was pursing my Master’s, I found my interests in web design and non-profit organizational work. All of my projects and essays were in some way focused on these interests. If you find something you like in Games for Change, think about how your class projects can be merged with your interests. In the process, you might build your portfolio too, toward a specific niche that you will want to keep pursuing once you graduate.

What do you think about violent games?

Dr. Hruska: I do not have an issue with violent games, just as I do not have issues with movies or stories with violence. However, some people, including me, are not drawn to these kinds of games. Ever since my early days playing infocom games like Leather Goddess of Phobos, and later, Trinity and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, I liked plots with a different kind of creativity on different levels. Games do not have to have violent to be entertaining, interactive, exciting, engaging, challenging, and beautiful.

Tell us about your passion for Games for Change.

Dr. Hruska: I have always had an interest in volunteering, and technology, and new cultures. When I saw the opportunity to help out countries in the developing world that wanted to go high tech with their own websites, graphics and more, I was hooked. I have written many essays ( on the topic of social change and technology, and hope to do more.

My interest in connecting these organizations to the benefits of technology evolved to my interest in use of video games to help with social issues. It seemed the next logical step. I found out about Games for Change, about the same time the organization was founded. One day, I want to attend their annual festival in NYC.

Mission for The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division Games for Change group:

  • To promote gaming as a way to rouse positive social change
  • To develop games that support positive social change
  • To encourage others to be a part of our cause; to share resources and more!


Our first Meeting is Sat., February 9th at 1pm EST. It should last one hour, but could go longer. It will be by online teleconference and webinar. You will just need your phone, a connection to the Internet, and your computer. Register Here!

If you want to attend, email

Animation Degrees - Creating a New World

written by Georgia Schumacher 12 July 2011

The world of animation is a fantasy world. Ever since Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse, animation has allowed mankind to express itself through a series of ever-changing universes. Places that aren’t limited by the laws of physics, that ignore reality, but through ignoring it more clearly express the greater reality that lives within our minds and imaginations.

Animation is only limited by the creativity of the animators; possibly some of the most creative people of our age. These are the people who don’t just see with their external eyes, but see with the internal ones. They are people who have learned how to dream with their eyes open.

Creating animation is just plain fun. It gives you the opportunity to take the fantasy world that is in your imagination and bring it out to play in a virtual world of your making. Animation degrees teach you the techniques you need to be part of this exciting field; delving into some of the greatest filmmaking of our time.

What do you see on the inside of you? Are you one of those people who should be pursuing animation degrees? Do you see the world differently? Is your particular creativity the kind that borders on fantasy, comedy and expressing the real in unreal ways?

Working towards your animation degree at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh will open the door for turning those dreams that you see with your eyes open into dreams that others can see as well. You will become one of a handful of people who spend their days playing in a fantasy world, and get paid to do it. Your fantasy world will become the fantasy world of many others as well.