There’s a rumble at Shenandoah University.
It’s the approach of something big, the groundbreaking shift of established academia, a technological transformation that’s shaking up the school’s status quo.
And at its epicenter is the Shenandoah Center for Immersive Learning (SCiL) lab.
Starting in fall 2019, Shenandoah will offer two new technology-driven majors: esports and virtual reality design, with exciting partnerships propelling each to the next level. The programs will be housed in the SCiL lab located in the Health & Life Sciences Building on the Winchester campus.
The new virtual reality and esports majors join cybersecurity, data science and computer science in our growing list of technology-focused programs. The synergies among these programs reflect the tremendous impact of technology in our lives and prepare students to be leaders in some of the fastest-growing industries in the world." Adrienne Bloss, Ph.D. | Provost
Esports: It’s not just a game
Shenandoah is cultivating a thriving esports ecosystem, and the guy with the controller in hand is Joey Gawrysiak, Ph.D., associate professor and director of sport management and esports.
Dr. Gawrysiak is an esports energy drink with the hand and eye coordination to navigate Shenandoah into the esports world.
One of the ways he’s doing this is with the creation of Shenandoah’s varsity esports team, which started competition this year through the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), with 30 team members playing five esport games. So far, the team has played Penn State and Maryland in Rocket League, Clemson in Paladins and Arizona State in Overwatch. There are also plans to implement a varsity-level virtual reality esports competition team.
Shenandoah will also be one of the first universities in the country to offer an esports major. The major not only provides a general esports education, but also uniquely offers not one, but two tracks that students can choose from:
The esports industry is one of the fastest-growing segments of the commercial entertainment industry and stands to become a billion-dollar industry by 2020. We are working to prepare students to enter this field as highly qualified individuals with a unique bachelor's degree that will place them ahead of other people wishing to enter the field." Joey Gawrysiak, Ph.D | Director of Sport Management & Esports
In esports, competitors face off in video games, such as Call of Duty, Fortnite, League of Legends and Overwatch. Streaming services like Twitch – a live feed service where people can watch from their home or at live events while others play video games – has five million active daily users. Popular gamers often have millions of fans and can make up to six figures playing the games they love.
Like any sport, esports require teamwork, strategy, communication, hand-eye coordination, dexterity, quick reaction time, accuracy and responsibility. Players need to have endurance to play for hours, and injuries can occur in the form of strained arm and hand muscles. There are also fans. Lots of fans if you’re good.
To compete in esports, you need a competitive drive, according to sophomore Chris Kumke, co-founder of Shenandoah’s esports program.
“If your mental game is not on-point, you’re going to lose every time,” Kumke said. “It’s super competitive and unforgiving.”
The esports industry is growing and is projected to be valued at $1.4 billion by 2020. According to the World Economic Forum, the global audience for esports is expected to reach 380 million this year. In 2017, only the World Cup and the Super Bowl drew in a larger audience than the League of Legends World Finals.
“Esports is growing exponentially with platforms like Youtube and Twitch,” said Shenandoah freshman Sean Kelly. “People are watching esports games like people are watching the NFL.”
And what can you do with an esports degree? A lot.
Through the major, students can learn about esports consumerism, how to run an esports event, performance and physical training in esports and streaming esports. More colleges and high schools are implementing esports programs, and some esports games are becoming franchises, like Overwatch and League of Legends. These teams and programs need teachers, coaches, trainers, managers, graphic designers, digital streamers, assembly technicians and more.
And in some students’ opinions, it’s the game of the future.
It doesn't matter who you are, no matter race or gender, anyone can compete." Josiah O'Sullivan '19 | Biology & Pre-Physical Therapy Student
Shenandoah Center for Immersive Learning (SCiL) recently filmed the recreation of the trial of abolitionist John Brown and is turning it into a 360-degree virtual reality (VR) video for use by local schools, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation and the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum. Brown was an abolitionist who, in 1859 in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia), was hanged for murder, treason and inciting a slave insurrection. Visitors to the museum, which is located on the Loudoun Street Mall, will be able to don a VR headset and be transported back in time to witness the excitement of the trial, which was recreated by more than 100 Shenandoah Conservatory students and community members. Users will be fully immersed in the tense environment, surrounded by reporters and a raucous crowd, and will have an up-close look at John Brown’s memorable closing remarks.
Virtual Reality: A New World Opens Up
Immersive VR Education is a software company in Ireland that provides educators a platform – called Engage – on which to build their own custom VR content. Engage allows educators to hold meetings, classes and presentations with people from all around the world in any virtual reality environment – from Mars to the ocean floor.
Through Engage, Shenandoah students will build virtual worlds and scenes that create simulated life experiences. The result will be five-minute immersive training experiences for real-world clients. Shenandoah students will not only build the virtual scenario, but they will also be able to star as role players in the experience.
Engage is going to move us so far beyond our brick and mortar here at Shenandoah. We're going to have the ability to help companies and entities nationally. Rapid training and retraining of individuals is becoming essential. It's important to be able to efficiently and cost-effectively train employees in the newest and best practices." J.J. Ruscella, M.F.A. | SCiL Executive Director and Associate Professor of Theatre
Shenandoah joins a select few colleges and universities worldwide, including the University of Oxford in England, in partnering with Immersive VR Education. Shenandoah will be the first higher education institution in Virginia to offer a virtual reality design major.
The Bachelor of Arts in Virtual Reality Design will prepare students for careers producing content for emerging AR/VR and related disciplines, either by specializing in 360-degree video or those interested in 360-degree, AR and/or VR simulation and training experience design.
The Bachelor of Science in Virtual Reality Design will prepare students for careers as technical specialists and/or programmers in AR/VR or related fields. Coursework includes programming in Unity and other languages, VR software design, and digital image processing mathematics.
- Virtual Reality Media Concentration
- Virtual Reality Digital Stages Concentration
- Virtual Reality Technology Concentration
- Virtual Reality Design Minor
- Virtual Reality Undergraduate Certificate
Graduates of Shenandoah’s virtual reality major will be able to find jobs in game programming; architecture, engineering and construction, which will use VR for 3D design; simulation training scenarios for doctors and first aid responders; safety training for the military/law enforcement; in the travel industry to advertise tourist locations and experiences to consumers; and in education, where teachers can take students to explore the past, remote places or uninhabitable environments.
According to Statista, a statistics portal for market data and market research, the AR/VR market size worldwide is expected to grow to $209 billion by 2022.
The starting salary of most graduates in VR is between $75,000 and $80,000, with the top end around $200,000, according to Business News Daily. Google, Facebook, Snap (Snapchat), NVIDIA and HTC are large employers of students with virtual reality degrees or experience. Shenandoah is exploring more of the human element within VR by tapping into the power of storytelling and emotion.
Where other programs focus on the connection of human to artificial intelligence, our program focuses on human-to-human connectivity. We're incorporating trained role players into the virtual space in order to facilitate dynamic experiences." J.J. Ruscella, M.F.A. | SCiL Executive Director and Associate Professor of Theatre
Look no farther than “An Atmosphere of Hate,” A Historical Immersion Virtual Reality Experience produced in January 2018, where Shenandoah Conservatory students acted in a 360-degree VR video to recreate a 1960s sit-in. With a VR headset, viewers are suddenly sitting at the counter watching what unfolds as a group of African-American patrons decides to enter a white establishment.
Shenandoah’s Division of Respiratory Care also recently collaborated with SCIL to create a virtual reality video for students to cultivate empathy. The video is a VR experience from the perspective of a patient who is treated by non-English speaking healthcare providers in an emergency situation. This helps students better empathize with patients who may be culturally and/or linguistically diverse.
In the spring, SCIL will undertake an exciting, fully immersive VR project. Using interior scans of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, Shenandoah history students and debate team members will become avatars of the Founding Fathers and debate on a virtual stage within a recreation of the 1787 Constitutional Convention.