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Introduction to Virtual Reality Experience Design

image capture from a final VR project from student Camila Centeno-Bonnet

“See, the world is full of things more powerful than us. But if you know how to catch a ride, you can go places.” – Neal Stephenson – Snow Crash

We assume that Stephenson was not talking about Chatham’s forthcoming Bachelor of Arts in Immersive Media program (applications for fall ’19 now being accepted), but he may as well have been: graduates will be prepared to work in some of the world’s most exciting fields–gaming, travel, entertainment, education, travel, and more.

It’s all about creating content that’s a joy to interact with. A cornerstone course is a two-semester journey called Introduction to Virtual Reality Experience Design. We asked instructor Doug North Cook for a look inside the course. Here’s what he said:

“We started by reading Neal Stephenson’s cyberpunk epic Snow Crash to help us see the future we are now living in from a different angle. Since then, most of our time has been spent exploring new virtual environments, creating, and talking to creators.

For example, talking with the producers of Job Simulator–the biggest VR game of 2016–let us get the inside scoop on how to think about creating VR experiences that are for everyone. Here’s a look at Job Simulator:

^ a glimpse of the wild fun of Job Simulator

When creating, we tried to spend as much time in VR as we could. Lack of prior training wasn’t a problem, as tools like Oculus Medium made it easy to build 3d assets (like the one below) and then bring them straight into our projects.

^ A 3d sculpt by Camila Centeno

Games, stories, technical demos, art galleries….we built them all and then some. This semester, the whole class is working collaboratively, with industry mentorship, to build a single VR experience. Students are taking on roles as audio producers, programmers, project managers, 3d artists, and capture artists to make their world come to life. I can’t wait to see where they take us.”

Below is a VR project made by Madison Krob.


Introduction to Virtual Reality Experience Design is a cornerstone course in Chatham’s Bachelor of Arts in Immersive Media program, launching in Fall 2019.  

hack your study skills

PACE Center staff
Education & Writing Specialist Nick Maydak, Shannon Brenner, Cindy Kerr, and Academic Counselor Barb Sahlaney

We sat down with Cindy Kerr and Shannon Brenner, respectively director and coordinator of the PACE Center for Academic Support and Disability Support Services, to learn how students can get the most out of their time hitting the books. Here’s what we found out:

Hack textbook reading.
This works well for science books. Before you read a chapter, go through and look at all the headings. Note any terms that are bolded, any sidebars, and look at the pictures, graphs, and charts.

Then read the chapter. “It’s a ‘pre-reading strategy’ that helps your brain,” says Brenner. “It makes connections more easily because you have an idea of what to expect.”

But don’t stop there. After you finish the chapter, close the book and write down (or audio record) everything you can remember from what you just read.

“Go back and try to recall the info every couple of days,” says Brenner. “Whatever you can’t comfortably recall and explain, reread that section and try it again. It’s more work, but it’s unbelievably effective.”

Hack your to-do list.
Does it look something like this?

  • Write psychology paper
  • Study for chemistry test

Kerr and Brennan suggest that you break those tasks up into smaller, goal-oriented tasks, like this:

  • Write psychology outline
  • Find three sources for psychology paper
  • Re-write chemistry notes from last week
  • Write down everything I remember from Chapter 3 of chemistry text

“Because they’re smaller, you’re much less likely to procrastinate starting them,” says Brenner. “Also, a longer list of easier-to-manage tasks leads to crossing more off that list, which leads to a greater feeling of accomplishment and productivity!”

Hack the methods of information delivery.
Say you’re in a lecture class, but you’re a visual learner. “Go to YouTube and find some videos,” says Kerr, who recommends Khan Academy’s YouTube videos. “They’re available 24/7, and if you watch them and then look at your lecture notes or textbook, they’ll supplement each other.”

Kerr notes that many students are used to having whatever learning resources they need given to them in high school. “Once they come to college,” she says, “they might not know what’s out there to help. That’s one of the places where we can come in.”

The PACE Center comprises the writing center, academic coaching, tutoring, and disability support services. Find it on the third floor of the Jenny Mellon King library, or access their online scheduling system here.

Chatham Receives NCAA Grant to Support Student-Athlete Mental Health

PITTSBURGH- Chatham faculty members Leigh Bryant Skvarla, Ph.D. and Mary Jo Loughran, Ph.D. and MSCP, student Meredith Deal have accepted a $12,500 grant from the NCAA to develop a web-based program to assist coaches as they support the mental health needs of student-athletes. The NCAA Innovations in Research and Practice Grant Program  received 84 applicants, and Skvarla and Loughran are among the five project teams  selected to receive funding.

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chatham signs memorandum of understanding Dublin Institute of Technology

Chatham President David Finegold and Dublin Institute of Technology President Brian Norton sign the MOU
Chatham President David Finegold and Dublin Institute of Technology President Brian Norton sign the MOU.

Chatham University and Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) designed to encourage collaboration between the two institutions. Possibilities included but are not limited to research partnerships; formal exchange programs for faculty and students; shared courses; and combined degrees.

“Dublin Institute of Technology sought us out as a partner because of our leadership in sustainability,” says Assistant Vice President for International Affairs Chris Musick. “There are several areas of academic overlap between the two institutions, and language is not an issue.” Musick notes that the partnership dovetails well with Chatham’s Year of Global Focus for 2018-19, which is Ireland.

“DIT has incredible programs that provide student brainpower for community projects,” adds Chatham Director of University Sustainability Mary Whitney, PhD.

In welcoming this important new platform for collaboration with Chatham, DIT President, Professor Brian Norton, said, “We are all excited by the prospect of working more closely with colleagues in Chatham University and look forward to developing collaborative research projects and mutually beneficial study abroad options for our students and staff.”

DIT’s School of Culinary Arts & Food Technology is Ireland’s leading provider of education, training and research for food-related industries. The Institute also offers a number of other graduate and undergraduate sustainability-related programs that complement Falk School of Sustainability & Environment  initiatives.

DIT is home to the Environmental Sustainability and Health Institute (ESHI), a joint program of Ireland’s National Health Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Dublin City Council, the EU and the University of Ulster. ESHI includes research institutes such as the Dublin Energy Lab, Water Innovation Research Center, Food and Health Research Center, and e-Health.

Chatham President David Finegold signed the Memorandum during his visit to Ireland in November, which followed President Norton’s summer visit to Chatham.

“DIT couldn’t have been more welcoming during my visit and I believe this will be a great long-term partnership,” says President Finegold.  “Beyond our shared strengths in sustainability and food studies, there are a range of academic areas where we can work together, from interior architecture and virtual worlds, to more inclusive approaches to entrepreneurship.”

Since November, DIT’s Head of School for Culinary Arts & Food Technology, Dr. Frank Cullen, has visited Pittsburgh. Further exchanges and collaborations are being developed for 2018-19.


Chatham MFA in Creative Writing to Host “Writers on Disability & Access in the Literary Community” on April 4

PITTSBURGH:  On Wednesday, April 4th, at 7 p.m. in the Welker Room of James Laughlin Music Hall, on Chatham University’s Shadyside campus, the Chatham University MFA in Creative Writing Program will host Dialogues: Writers on Disability and Access in the Literary Community. Sonya Huber, Sally Alexander, and Christopher Heuer will read from their work and discuss their experiences as writers with disabilities, as well as the responsibility of academic and publishing institutions to be more inclusive of marginalized populations.

The event is free and open to the public. Contact MFA Program Assistant, Kelly Kepner, at for more information.

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