Sasha Barab, Director & Professor

Sasha Barab is executive Director of the Center, and a Professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. He is a founding senior scientist and scholar of the Learning Sciences Institute and Director of the Center for Games & Impact. His research has resulted in numerous grants, dozens of articles and multiple chapters in published books, which investigate knowing and learning in its material, social and cultural context. He develops sustainable interventions and theoretical ideas to support a more knowledgeable, compassionate and committed citizenship.

Professor Barab designs and researches learning environments to assist children in developing their sense of purpose as individuals, as members of their communities and as knowledgeable citizens of the world. Central to this work has been the understanding of the value in transformational play. Students who play in this manner become agents of change who use real-world knowledge, skills and concepts to make sense of a situation and then make choices that actually transform their play space and themselves, creating a place in which what you know is directly related to what you are able to do and, ultimately, who you become.

Across his various work has been a commitment to understanding designing, scaling, and optimizing innovations for impact. Professor Barab’s design work has included everything from bounded games used in K-12 classrooms to multiuser virtual worlds with thousands of connected participants to game-enabled services designed to support users in achieving real-world goals. Across these innovations is a sensitivity to factors such as ecosystem integration, stakeholder alignment, storied truths, enacted agency, ongoing optimization, and sustainable and scalable outcomes.

Anna Arici, Senior Research Scientist

Dr. Anna Arici is Research Faculty in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Games and Impact, where her work involves the design, curriculum, and research of game-infused learning environments for societal challenges, change and impact. She is currently leading an NSF funded program called ‘STEM Mio,’ creating college and career pathways for Latino youth in the STEM areas. In collaboration with HACU (Hispanic Assoc of Colleges & Universities) and VME (Spanish Public Television, creating an affiliated TV series), the STEM Mio team is designing, optimizing, and researching a series of game-infused project-based Quests and Missions that support middle-school students in a long-term process; from exploring STEM through games and maker spaces, matching personal interests to aligned careers, gaining real world STEM experience, and attending campus tours, to applying to colleges. STEM Mio is designed to be engaged by students with their families, to help scaffold the STEM and college experience for the larger community.

Dr. Arici also led the development of Quest2Teach, a series of game-infused curricula and social- professional network designed specifically for teacher education. These 3D immersive curricula are now incorporated into the MLFTC’s teacher preparation program to help bridge between student’s educational theory and its application into the field. In these game environments, teachers play out different scenarios with virtual students, see the consequences of their choices via game trajectories, and share experiences with a network of colleagues. Dr. Arici is also collaborating with Intel to create game-infused learning platforms and interactive experiences for professional development within their Intel Educate programs, which reach 10 million educators worldwide. Central to her work has been the understanding of the value in transformational play. Students who play in this manner become agents of change who use real-world knowledge, skills and concepts to make sense of a situation and then make choices that actually transform their play space and themselves. Dr. Arici’s research demonstrates the value of game platforms for both learning and motivation, while illuminating the importance of interaction, context, and agency in the process.

Walter Kalata, Chief Technology Officer

Walter formerly served as the CTO of, he designed and architected an interactive system which enabled tens of thousands of players to interact and engage each other on a fun and robust gaming platform.  Prior to entering the gaming industry, he designed and architected a myriad of products for the manufacturing industry; spanning from scheduling systems used to manage production on a fiberglass assembly line to one enabling a trucking company to choose routes which minimized return trips with empty trailers.  Walter’s passion is in building large-scale interactive systems which enable people to connect in a meaningful way.

Zach Ripka, Senior Engineer

Zach is a senior engineer, working on the full stack from backend infrastructure to front-end user views. Zach is a hard worker, and an extremely fast learner. He adapts to every situation to fill any gaps. He loves his work and is very passionate about how he approaches the world.  He has a rich background working on projects with TexasHoldem.Com, American Express, and 20th Century Fox.

He brings a wealth of insight, working to ensure the project remains just as fast for 5 users as it does for 5000. Beyond remaining current in the industry, Zach skydives, travels around the world, and values meaningful interactions with those around him.

Justin Messner, Lead Artist

Justin Messner is an artist who makes games look fantastic and play even better. Everything from early concept designs and illustrations to 3d modeling, in-game hand painted textures, user interface elements, particle effects, lighting, sculpting the terrain and world building all the props throughout each environment. While Justin does a wide range of various art needed for each project he specializes in environment art and making each of the worlds come alive with breathtaking visuals. Recently, he has been leading the UI of the ThriveCast Mobile platform as well.

Steven Sipprell, Game Designer

Steven is an ASU graduate who started out as a student intern, but quickly grew into a strong game designer and engineer. He know redesigns scripts in Unity 3D, at the same time building mechanics that matter to those who plays the games he develops.

He has a strong passion for influencing change in the world through virtual content. In his free time, he likes to dabble in app development, website creation, and enjoys Blizzard games.


Francesca Lascala, Community Architect

Francesca is a an undergraduate student at Arizona State University in the School of the Future of Innovation in Society. Starting as an intern, Francesca has become a lead curriculum designer (growth architect), focused on understanding the “jobs to be done,” in a particular area, and then assembling growth invitations to help community members make progress in goals that matter to them.

She has built content being used by thousands of teachers to help end human trafficking, as well as work to help teen parents, incarcerated youth, youth in the workplace, and is currently working on a social impact innovation micro-certificate for high-school students and college undergraduates. She is skilled in researching a topic, interviewing community members, and building growth invitations that matter to them.

Rider Griffin, Studio Intern

Rider is an intern working on multiple aspects from managing our check-in repository to building curriculum to adding sound effects to Center games. He is quite passionate about MineCraft, and is working to release a suite of growth invitations focused on helping young kids develop mini-games in MineCraft. With a music background, he also plays bass in the ASU band and is currently building sound effects in two Center Games.


Qing Zhang, Graduate Student

Doctoral student in Learning Sciences in the Mary Lou Fulton Teacher’s College. She specializes in converting to-be-learned content into actionable growth invitations with a commitment to diverse voices. Leveraging an empathetic design bias, Qing has been working on Entrpreneurial Mindset with an appreciation for the challenges that youth face in today’s rapidly changing, digitally connected world.

Qing’s understanding of entrepreneurial mindset is that it serves as a way for individuals to approach the areas of friends, family, community, work, and the world more generally with a commitment to positive change. She believes that if properly supported each of us has the power to be entrepreneurial in all areas of our life so that we can unlock better futures.

She is currently working on the Kern Family Foundation project focused on helping all youth to lead flourishing lives. Here, grounded on youth making progress in character and purpose, they can leverage the growth opportunities she is creating to grow in areas that matter to them.