Charley Edamala, associate vice president and chief information officer of Illinois State’s Office of Technology Solutions, did not set out to champion Redbird Esports. He was simply looking for space in 2018 for students participating in esports as a registered student organization (RSO) to practice and play.

He found a Julian Hall conference room that was converted into the Digital Innovation, Graphics, and Gaming Studio (DIGGS) with machines he advocated be purchased. Working with the RSO president at the time, Jack Blahnik ’19, Edamala was inspired to help ISU establish a varsity esports team that competes nationally.

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With a direction secured, Edamala knew the University needed to move quickly to become the first state institution with a varsity esports team. He was pleased when David Kirk, M.S. ’16, was hired in January 2020 as ISU’s esports program director and a Redbird Esports varsity team was created. Now Redbird Esports is gearing up to move into a newly renovated space within the Bowling and Billiards Center this fall.

He and his wife, Preethy, above, created the Sarah Ninan and Annamma John Mathew Scholarship to support underserved students who participate in Redbird Esports. The fund pays tribute to Edamala’s mother, Annamma, and Preethy’s mother, Sarah. Both were trailblazers for whom education was transformational.

Born in Kerala, India, to parents with limited resources, Annamma was the first of her family to attend college. After graduating, she and Edamala’s father pursued teaching roles in Tanzania, where Edamala was born.

Sarah was born in Kerala to a farmer in a time when educating girls was uncommon, yet her love of learning prevailed. She left home and went to Bombay to study nursing. There she met Preethy’s father, who eventually earned a Ph.D. in physics.

Like their families, Charley and Preethy value education. Preethy earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture from the University of Nebraska. Charley earned a bachelor’s degree in electronics and telecommunications from the University of Zambia, a master’s in computer science from Temple University, and is completing a doctorate in higher education administration at Illinois State.

The Edamalas hope their scholarship will help students become trailblazers in the gaming world and other STEM fields.

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