courtney spivey

Class of 2020 graduates planning bright futures

The University of Tulsa’s graduating class of 2020 didn’t walk across the stage, but the formality hasn’t stopped them from walking into exciting new careers and opportunities. Three of these graduates took time from their busy schedules to reflect on how TU impacted their lives.

Maureen Haynes will start a PhD program in biomedical sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in downtown Chicago. She was awarded full funding for the degree as a Driskill Graduate Fellow. Haynes will work closely with the program’s faculty and fellows on vital research, including discovering new ways to diagnose rare pediatric genetic diseases, running clinical trials for drug treatments for COVID-19 and developing better solutions to drug resistant infections.

Haynes credits TU for helping her reach this point through research with faculty. As a double major in sociology and biology, she participated in three major research projects at TU, working closely with faculty to develop not only technical skills but also vital life skills she says will benefit her moving forward.

“I’ll never forget the care and access that I was afforded by faculty and administration at TU,” Haynes said. “TU does an excellent job of making sure that students are able to have personalized access to the people that will launch their growth and expand their horizons, and I’ve spent countless hours in professors’ offices, talking about everything from class material to current events and the state of the world.”


After graduating with a triple major in computer simulation and gaming, graphic design, and applied mathematics, Courtney Spivey plans on studying for a master’s degree in game programming at the University of Abertay in Scotland. Then, after completing the prestigious one-year program, she hopes to find a job pursuing her passion.

Spivey says she found her footing in the TU computer science and gaming simulation major, which helped put her on a path to where she is at today. In addition to her professors and advisers mentoring her along the way, she is thankful for the small size of the university, which provided a close-knit community of lasting friendships.

Spivey will always remember her adventures as TU, from “chugging a Monster Energy drink the morning after an all-nighter of studying,” which unfortunately did not have the effects she had envisioned, to “the times I spent with my roommate, Kimberly, hyping each other up to go to social gatherings on Friday nights only to both tap out thirty minutes before each event.” She will not forget joining clubs that “taught what diversity, empowerment and equity look like,” and how all of her TU memories involve being surrounded by friends that felt more like family.


Junyu He plans on pursuing higher education in the United States. He earned a degree in psychology from TU and has been admitted by several graduate schools to continue studying criminology.

Of TU, He said, “TU has equipped me with professional and proficient knowledge that is constantly required to achieve my academic goals, including how to become a critical and independent thinker. Critical thinking is pivotal to assure your research findings are valid and reliable in the future, while independent thinking is the groundwork that supports creativity. TU has modified my fixed mindset to one of growth, which allows me to enjoy the process that facilitates personal ability without concerning too much about possible failure.”

Looking back, he has fond memories of TU, including life as an international student and his first homecoming experience. He says there were too many great moments to focus on only one because every shared connection with friends and dedicated professors will not be forgotten.

Gaming students take interdisciplinary approach to summer TURC projects

Students Courtney Spivey and Cheyanne Wheat, enrolled in one of the College of Engineering and Natural Science’s fastest growing majors, are spending their summer diving into computer simulation and gaming development – with a humanities twist.

A career of creativity

Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) student Courtney Spivey wants to create video games. As an artist, drawing and being creative is all she’s ever wanted to do.

“I’ve always loved to imagine. My interests have expanded and changed form vastly over the years, but at the end of the day I want to be involved in a career where I can be creative and share my creativity with as many people as possible,” she said.

computer simulationSpivey is laying the groundwork for her future by triple majoring in applied mathematics, computer simulation and gaming and art (emphasis on graphic design) in the Kendall College of Arts and Sciences. The University of Tulsa’s computer simulation and gaming degree begins with core computer science classes in the fundamentals of programming and understanding computer systems, and then gives students the freedom to choose a specialization. As an example, the areas of design and development focus more on the artistic aspects of creating, screenwriting and drawing and also offer electives such as video editing and 3D modeling.

Courtney says she likes learning about code and the development side of the computer simulation and gaming program. In January, she began her TURC research exploring deep learning, artificial neuro networks (ANNs) and the capabilities and current limitations of artificial intelligence (AI). In addition to machine learning and AI, Spivey’s work has grown to include the study of human behavior in psychology in an attempt to find connections between the similarities of the creators and their methods for approaching deep learning.

“The human side is more flexible. When you look at why humans prefer one thing over another, you have to consider the validity of the research,” she said.

Gaming goals and future endeavors

In June, Spivey attended the International Computational Creativity Conference (ICCC) in Charlotte, North Carolina, to learn about mixing AI and machine learning with creative channels such as music and drawing. Her TURC adviser, TU School of Art, Design and Art History Director Teresa Valero, encouraged her to pursue the opportunity. Spivey will complete the community engagement portion of her TURC project later this summer when she visits Tulsa Public School sites to teach students about ANNs.

“The cool thing about TURC is that because I’m interested in media and art and how we perceive AI from a normal point of view, I can combine that with computer science analytics,” she said. “I find this research fascinating.”

computer simulationSpivey, who is from Jenks, Oklahoma, begins her senior year at TU this fall. After graduation, she hopes to work in game development as a creative manager for new projects.

In the meantime, Spivey is open to detours along her career path that pique her interest and challenge her skillset. Ironically, she is “not that much of a gamer” but credits video games like Detroit: Become Human and Legend of Zelda for leading her to this summer’s TURC project.

Gilcrease connections assist with museum technology

computer simulationFellow computer simulation and gaming major Cheyanne Wheat sits at a computer across TU’s campus in Rayzor Hall working on a similar project that also involves collaboration with TU arts and sciences programming. A junior originally from the Tulsa area, she has teamed up with TU anthropology Professor Bob Pickering to create a simulated time progression of an Indian burial mound’s construction. The interactive video game will benefit curators and preservationists at cultural institutions, such as Gilcrease Museum, where anthropologists are eager to incorporate more technology into interactive learning.

“I want to know how we can use games or game-like activities based on a museum collection to engage a younger audience,” Pickering explained. “Gilcrease has 10,000 years of human history objects from the Americas, but if you’re a 9-year-old, you don’t know these objects, you don’t have any connection to them and you don’t know why they’re important.”

According to Pickering, the museum video game concept is an experiment on every level, but collaboration with computer simulation and gaming students on a “museum forward” idea is important for the next generation of museum professionals. “This partnership is a way to start the process — to figure out what kind of technology we need and how much time it will require,” he said.

computer simulationPickering and JC Diaz, a professor in the TU Tandy School of Computer Science, have worked together on a few other museum technology projects in the past that have resulted in published papers presented at scholarly events such as the Electronic Visualization in the Arts Conference in London. The unexpected collaboration between TU’s anthropology and computer simulation and gaming programs is, Pickering noted, one of the first of its kind and sparks many interdisciplinary possibilities for curious students.

The TURC partnership weaves Pickering’s experience as an archaeologist, Gilcrease artifacts recovered from burial mounds of the Hopewell Tribe in Illinois and Wheat’s expertise as a computer simulation and gaming student. “He’s giving me the historical, accurate information, and as a developer, I’m building all of it into a museum context,” she said.

computer simulation
Cheyanne Wheat’s community service component of TURC involves volunteering for Animal Aid in Tulsa.

Wheat uses an Intel RealSense 3D camera to photograph models of Hopewell Tribe artifacts placed on a turntable. The hundreds of images are then plugged into a computer program called Unreal to develop a game that is fun and informative. Players will explore a landscape full of nature, animals and artifacts from the Hopewell Tribe 250 BCE to 250 CE while learning about history and civilization. The objective is to tell the story behind historical objects and discuss how museum-goers of all ages can learn from a video game feature.

“I’m hoping to complete development by the end of the summer and start testing it with real individuals to see how it captures people’s interest — if they like it and think it belongs in a museum,” Wheat said. “I’m focused on integrating more technology into museum culture. There’s so much technology the anthropology field hasn’t tackled yet.”