Erik Funkhouser ‘03 grew up in Clayton, GA and began attending Rabun Gap as a day student in his seventh-grade year. He now lives in Chicago, IL where he works as a Client Solutions Architect for Level Ex, a company that creates video games for doctors. During his time at Rabun Gap, he became involved in the arts and participated both in Cirque and in the Industrial Arts program. He now uses skills that he learned here to continue to grow his passions which include furniture-building, singing, and playing guitar. Funkhouser visited students to share about his career in December 2019.
Tell us about where you went to college and what you’ve been up to after graduating from Rabun Gap. What do you do as a career?
I attended East Tennessee State University from 2004 - 2009. After graduating with a bachelor’s in Digital Media, I began working a variety of jobs over the next three years for small companies doing motion graphics, graphic design, web design, web development, 3D modeling, and 3D animation. I then made the move to Full Sail University to receive my Masters in Game Design, with a focus on video game project management in 2012.
Prior to graduating from Full Sail, WMS Gaming recruited me as an associate producer in 2013 to help support their operations in Chicago. After 5 years at WMS and being promoted to Senior Producer to run two game studios, I then made the move to work with Level Ex making video games for doctors.
For the past two years, I have taken on numerous responsibilities that include project management, product management, game design, and supporting our sales team. I’ve been lucky to be provided the opportunity to work in developing technology for the Translational Institute of Space Health, funded by NASA, to work with NASA researchers to develop solutions for long-duration and long-distance space flight. My career in game development has been very rewarding, and I hope to continue within the industry for years to come.
How would you say Rabun Gap has impacted your life since leaving? Did it change you as a person?
In retrospect, there are many areas where Rabun Gap supported my growth as a young adult. Diversity in the student population impacted my worldview to be more open-minded and smaller classrooms with passionate teachers created moments of real engagement with learning. Bullying was significantly reduced for me, which allowed for more time to focus on personal growth and more time socializing with my classmates. It allowed me to build confidence in actively engaging with sports, the arts, and my studies.
Though I struggled academically, the access to more art-centric environments helped me thrive in areas that I heavily rely on still to this day. Learning how to build furniture, painting, drawing, acting, poetry, and being provided my own time to study 3D modeling was incredibly impactful. As someone who struggled in other core classes, I am fairly confident I would not have reached the point I have as an adult without significant access to studying the arts.
What's your favorite memory from Rabun Gap?
I think my favorite memory was Rabun Gap going to state competitions in theatre and getting second place with a high school production of Cirque Du Soleil. The standing ovation was incredible.
What do you miss most about Rabun Gap?
Playing Mr. Reynold’s guitar to an empty Chapel most days at lunch or after school. It was great to have personal time to pursue learning music in my own way.
What advice do you have for current Rabun Gap students that you wish someone told you during your time at school?
Though easy advice may be to suggest to take your studies more seriously, I actually wish I had known the real issue was that I didn’t know how I could make learning a personal passion. I had a lot of anxiety around a lack of motivation, and I didn’t really hit my stride until college.
The trick for me was to associate what I was learning to something I already cared about. I never wanted to learn piano because classical music was rather boring to learn, but when provided the opportunity to learn Glycerine by Bush on the guitar, I was immediately hooked on learning how to play guitar. Math, history, sciences, etc have all become more rewarding to learn about when associated with my personal passions in video game development, crafting, music, etc.
Which teacher or coach had the greatest influence on you?
That’s a tough one to answer. I had multiple role models that had an impact on my life to varying degrees. Educators have a unique opportunity to serve as great examples to students in their journey to learn who they want or don’t want to be.
You recently visited campus to speak during Convocation and to guest teach in several classes. In what ways has the school changed or remained the same? Tell us what it was like to come back as an adult.
It was wonderful to see how the school has taken steps to evolve and grow while maintaining the spirit of the school while I was attending so long ago.
The investments in STEAM are great to see and are ultimately required for any institute to remain relevant as we continue as a technology-centric society. So many of these technical skills not only enable people to build confidence in creative problem-solving in complex environments but also provide exposure to potential career paths. Many colleges don’t even provide a great variety of exposures as they expect you to frequently start classes with something already in mind. I’m looking forward to seeing Rabun Gap continue the growth in investment in STEAM.