Brandon Denney remembers receiving an intriguing inquiry from Dr. Shewanee Howard-Baptiste, at the time his advisor in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Master of Public Health program.
“She reached out to me last year and said, ‘I know you are looking for a summer position, and this might be something that could combine your interest in art and biology,'” recalled Denney, who received his master’s degree in May.
“When she brought it up, I said, ‘Yes, I would absolutely be interested in hearing all about it,’ and that’s how this board game got its start.”
Through Dr. Howard-Baptiste, Denney was introduced to Loren Hayes, a UTC professor in biology, geology and environmental sciences who studies degus, small burrowing rodents around the size of a hamster who live in central Chile.
As part of grant funding he received from the National Science Foundation, Hayes needed to develop an activity that would inspire middle and high school students to become interested in science.
After brainstorming with Hayes, Denney conceptualized the creation of a board game.
“I grew up playing ‘Mario Party’ and ‘Sorry’ and ‘Dungeons & Dragons,’ and I wanted to make something that was not a typical in-class experience,” Denney explained.
“I thought it would be a cool concept to put students in the shoes of these degus and experience what they would experience in the wild. How do we manage resources? Where do I move on the board to reduce stress or avoid predators?”
Still in its prototype stage, Denney’s creation–“Run, Degu, Run!”–is an ecology-themed board game where players try to survive as a group of Octodon degus.
Denney created the game board, game cards and dice from scratch. The game pieces, inch-size degus in multiple colors, were produced using 3D printers.
“Brandon did an amazing job and exceeded expectations times 10,” Hayes said. “The game he has developed is incredible. It was a lot of fun to see his creativity come into play.”
This fall, Denney is moving forward with his board game project. His plans include testing “Run, Degu, Run!”with students participating in the Upward Bound Math & Science and GEAR UP programs on the UTC campus.
“I think the best learning is done when people have fun, and if this game sparks joy in at least one student to pursue biology, ecology or education in general, that’s the dream right there,” he said.