The University of Central Florida was awarded a $434,800 National Institutes of Health grant that will allow researchers there to develop a game using life-size avatars and real-life scenarios to promote sexual abstinence among Latina middle schoolers.

Anne Norris, a UCF nursing professor, and Charles Hughes, a UCF computer science professor, will work together with UCF’s Institute for Simulation & Training during the next two years on the project.

The game is intended to be played in after-school and youth outreach programs run by trained teachers and counselors. It will be designed to improve girls’ skills in responding to peer pressure to engage in sexual behavior.

To develop the game characters, Norris and her team are collecting data from focus groups of Latina students participating in the city of Orlando After-School All-Stars program based at Stonewall Jackson Middle School. In April, two groups of girls each came to UCF twice to participate in games and other activities supervised by Jeff Wirth, director of the Interactive Performance Lab at UCF’s Institute for Simulation & Training.

“Our ultimate goal is to reduce pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease among the young Latina population,” Norris said.

After the game is developed, it will be tested on a small group of Latina girls. Their progress will be studied three, six and nine months after they start playing the game.

If the game is successful for the Latina girls, Norris plans to develop a similar game for boys and girls of other ethnicities.

Source: Orlando Business Journal, UCF gets $434K NIH grant