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Andy Andermatt, a sophomore at Ohio University demonstrates Windows Mixed Reality, a virtual reality program in the Ohio University Grid Lab located in Scripps Hall on Oct. 28, 2020. Andermatt is studying Media Arts and Studies, with focusing on virtual reality.

OU students to enroll in new virtual reality major in next fall

After nearly six years in the making, the new virtual reality and game development, or VRGD, major will be offered by Ohio University in fall 2022. The major was approved this past spring, and students will be able to enroll in the next school year.

Students already have the opportunity to pursue a virtual reality and game development track through the Information and Telecommunication Systems, or ITS, major, but soon will be able to graduate with a degree solely in virtual reality and game development. The degree is offered through the J. Warren McClure School of Emerging Communication Technologies, located in Schoonover Center.

Charles “Chip” Linscott, an assistant professor in the School and director of Undergraduate Studies, helped design the classes and curriculum with professors Eric Williams and John Bowditch. The team put all of the curriculum through the university’s curriculum process, as well as the state approval processes and the accreditation process.

All three professors also teach a portion of the required courses for the VRGD major. The new curriculum will focus on a variety of concepts, including an emphasis on augmented reality and introductory classes that focus on digital design for immersive media. 

“These are introductory classes that we've never had before,” Linscott said. “They're really going to give people who come into the new major a really solid grounding, and a lot of the applications and the technologies that they need to get where they want to go to make their virtual dreams come true.”

A component that inspired this major was the fact OU received recognition for their virtual reality track through the ITS degree. The university was ranked No. 1 in the state of Ohio for virtual reality programs. 

Additionally, a large grant called the Immersive Media Initiative helped jumpstart the new curriculum by introducing virtual reality and related technologies to OU. The grant was not to run the program, but rather to fund projects. These projects began to stir up interest from the student body.

“The inspiration really was all of the interest in virtual and augmented reality, combined with working on all these cool grant projects and what great students we have,” Linscott said. “They had a hunger for a degree.”

Another factor that aided the major’s development was the combination of OU’s Game Research and Immersive Design, or GRID, Lab.

“When this new school came about, when it became Emerging Communication Technologies, I think that's when we were ready to marshal all of our resources together and get a major going with the support of the McClure School and the GRID Lab,” Linscott said. “That was really instrumental.”

The buzz about this new major has many of the staff who worked on it feeling excited about the launch coming up. Someone that shares in that excitement is Anthony Zoccola, a lab manager and project manager at the GRID Lab. Zoccola also teaches two of the courses offered through the VRGD major, Understanding Virtual Reality Technology Lab and Introduction to Virtual Reality Production Lab.

“Now that the major’s kicking off, it's exciting to see that fruition of your work,” Zoccola said.

Tommy Hensler, a freshman studying music production, is currently enrolled in Understanding Virtual Reality Technology.

“I'm also just excited to see what people would do with a major,” Hensler said. “I'm curious (to see) the really cool games to come out of it (and) what students will create … Since it's very closely connected with the GRID Lab, I think that’s cool.” 

Linscott said the need for people in the work field with this major is growing. Knowledge of how virtual reality works is crucial for occupations such as video game designers and technicians, but there are other fields that have an increasing need for virtual reality developers such as healthcare and education.

“The second thing I'm really excited about, after all these awesome students, is just to see where everything's going and to help Ohio University be the leader in taking these industries there,” he said. “I mean we're in Ohio, we're not in L.A. or New York, but we've got a pretty good reputation, and we're making things happen.”


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