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FAMU SJGC Hosts Virtual Reality Boot Camp

By Aiyana Ishmael

A select group of Florida A&M University students participated in the School of Journalism & Graphic Communication Knight Chair Speaker Series Virtual Reality Boot Camp on February 28 and March 1. The two-day immersive workshop allowed students to create and produce their own VR film and generate an augmented reality filter to supplement their short film.

Prof. Francine Huff, the Knight Chair for Student Achievement, hosted the event while partnering with SJGC alumna and event facilitator L. Michelle Salvant to create a hands-on workshop.

A knowledgeable group of AR and VR storytellers and creators accompanied Salvant, owner of and the creator of Culturally Relevant Stories of Faith and the African-American Experience. The team included Alton Glass, an award-winning VR filmmaker and CEO of GRX Immersive; Amanda Shelby, a producer of virtual and augmented reality, also of GRX Immersive; Torance Jones, an award-winning VR and AR innovator; and Will Roberts, a director, VR artist and immersive designer.

“It was wonderful just being able to help [the students] discover new opportunities with immersive technology and see how they were able to use these resources to use their imagination and creativity,” Glass said.

Day one of the workshop provided students with background knowledge of the AR and VR technology, plus learning how to operate the Oculus Go Standalone VR headsets that were donated by Oculus for the boot camp. By the next day, the students were split into two groups where they were able to write and produce their VR stories.

“Maybe two hours in, the students start to get it, said Shelby. “But then you always see this one moment where it makes sense and it always clicks somewhere on the second day. Their eyes get bright and they see the opportunity. That never gets old.”

After creating, directing and editing, the students gathered in the SJGC Lecture Hall where they showcased their work to Dean Michelle Ferrier and other FAMU students and community members.

Emannuel Bello, a graphic design student, signed up for the workshop, not knowing what to expect.

“I feel like it’s one of the best experiences I had ever since I came into FAMU,” said Bello.  “I also feel like VR is the future and it holds many opportunities for people who are ready to invest the time in it.”

After presenting their work, the students were surprised when they were told they could keep the Oculus Go headsets, donated by Oculus VR. Bello thought that was an amazing gift after experiencing the boot camp and exclaimed that he’d come to these workshops “again and again and again.” All students that participated also received a certificate of completion for the workshop.

The VR Boot Camp was the second virtual reality event at SJGC, and as the industry becomes more technology based it’s important for the students to continue to develop these skills. Huff said she plans to continue offering opportunities for students to develop virtual reality skills, as well as learn about other types of emerging technologies.

“I think it’s very important to have these technologies a part of the campus experience because we live in an age where technology moves so fast,” Glass said. “You want to be able to take advantage of these opportunities, build your skill set, have transferable skills, build communicative knowledge and apply that to what you’re doing.”

Ferrier hopes to continue experiences like this for the students. She plans to “hack the curriculum” so that more students can have the opportunity to gain these skills.

“The exposure to the technology helps open your eyes to other ways and other stories that you might tell,” Ferrier said. “I think it’s critically important that we at least provide some exposure and some hands-on work with different kinds of technology so that students can choose the right tool for the job.”