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New Lab Lets La Sierra Students Explore Virtual Reality, AI Careers


RIVERSIDE, Calif. – ( La Sierra University computer science majors and other students now have an opportunity to prepare for careers in virtual reality and artificial intelligence sectors which analysts predict will grow exponentially over the next several years.

The university’s department of computer science celebrated the opening of a new virtual reality and artificial intelligence lab on Nov. 8 which will allow students to explore these technologies through virtual game play and research. The VR+AI Lab includes a virtual reality, or VR headset, 15 powerful graphics computers and a large screen television. It is outfitted with nearly 1,000 multicolored LED lights that are Wi-Fi-connected and controllable from a mobile phone or computer. The lights, which track around the edge of the room at the ceiling and spell out the lab’s name in letters on a wall, are controlled by a custom-programmed microprocessor. They are designed to activate and produce a colorful show whenever a person enters the lab.

Visitors look around the new VR+AI Lab during a grand opening celebration on Nov. 8 in Price Science Complex. In the background, La Sierra University President Randal Wisbey views a Wi-Fi-connected multicolored light show that is controllable from a mobile phone or computer.

“The lab allows students to have direct experiences in working with the virtual reality environment, and to design and build automated intelligence electronic devices,” said La Sierra University Department of Computer Science Chair Enoch Hwang. “These two different skill sets are highly sought for in the job market.”

According to respective industry forecasts this year from leading international research firms Gartner, Inc. and Transparency Market Research, global business value derived from artificial intelligence is expected to reach $3.9 trillion by 2022, while the market for virtual and augmented reality products and services is expected to hit $547.20 billion by 2024. Healthcare in particular is expected to be a key consumer of virtual and augmented reality in its quest for better treatments. Significant applications are also anticipated in education, gaming, construction, and 3D media.

"I am delighted that our computer science department offers students opportunities to explore artificial intelligence and build their capacity to create virtual environments,” commented La Sierra University Provost Joy Fehr. During the new lab’s grand opening celebration, she donned the virtual reality headset and entered a digital world where she used a handheld controller to play with a digital robot dog.

Provost Joy Fehr asks questions before putting on a virtual reality headset and entering a virtual world where she interacts with a robotic dog.

“While I have heard much about virtual reality, I had not experienced it before my visit to our new lab,” said Fehr. “I am impressed by the immersive experience our students have created; it is a testament to their capacity for creativity and development of expertise that situates them well for future careers in the field."

The La Sierra VR+AI Lab is the result of two years of brainstorming on the part of computer science faculty and students. Donors covered much of the costs and provided equipment. Hwang spent the summer designing and programming the lab’s Wi-Fi-linked lights display and preparing the lab for the start of school.

The lab hosted a computer science seminar during fall quarter with 11 computer science students who investigated and learned how to develop virtual reality programs. Additionally, two students registered for a new, four-unit directed studies class offered to provide more in-depth research.

Junior computer science majors Cody Johnson and Christopher Friedrichsen are pursuing directed study projects and will delve further into the science of virtual reality during winter quarter through ongoing research with Hwang.

“The most interesting aspect of virtual reality is its potential,” said Friedrichsen who is interested in game design and development. “Its ability to make a virtual world, a virtual setting, react as the real world reacts in relation to a user distinguishes it from any other medium in existence.”

Johnson said he’s interested in a career in computer networking but is also mulling a future in the virtual reality industry. “What interests me most about VR technology is how it’s a new medium to experience the world through a lens where anything is possible, and with the right programming we can make anything possible,” he said.

The lab’s virtual reality capabilities are set up to pique the interests of young people, many of who are interested in video games, Hwang said. “This VR lab is not only a show piece to attract these young people, but also provides the equipment and tools for our computer science students to learn how to write programs for the virtual reality environment,” he said.

The lab’s artificial intelligence component ties in with the robotics work Hwang has engaged in over the past five years. That effort has involved yearly summer robotics camps for youth, and robotics education opportunities for students. “But with this new lab, the students will be able to work on more advanced robotic research,” he said.

About La Sierra University

La Sierra University, a Seventh-day Adventist institution nationally acclaimed for its diverse campus and its service to others, offers a transformational experience that lasts a lifetime.

U.S. News & World Report for six years named La Sierra University the most racially diverse university in the western United States. In addition, in September 2016 and 2017, the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education top colleges ranking named La Sierra University the most diverse campus in the nation. Additionally, U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 Best Colleges guide listed La Sierra ninth in the 15-state western region for best value. This follows the July 2015, Money magazine list which ranked La Sierra University eighth in the nation for providing value-added education that helps students surpass expectations. Each year, from 2008 to 2014 the Corporation for National and Community Service included La Sierra in the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll awards. These awards include La Sierra’s receipt of the prestigious 2013 Presidential Award, the highest honor a college or university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning, and civic engagement. The corporation’s awards recognize La Sierra’s students for providing thousands of hours of service including international economic development projects by La Sierra’s world cup-winning Enactus team, and community projects through La Sierra’s campus-wide, Service-Learning program.

In December 2008, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching included La Sierra on its 2008 Community Engagement Classification lists consisting of 119 colleges and universities around the United States. La Sierra University achieved re-classification status in 2015.

The Seventh-day Adventist denomination established La Sierra University in 1922 on acreage formerly part of the Rancho La Sierra Mexican land grant. Today the 150-acre campus provides more than 120 bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees for about 2,300 students. Programs are offered in the Tom and Vi Zapara School of Business, the School of Education, the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School, the College of Arts and Sciences and in the Evening Adult Degree Program.

“To Seek, To Know, and To Serve” is the key to the mission that drives La Sierra University, with all areas of campus encouraging students to develop a deeper relationship with God.



This press release was written by Darla Martin Tucker and provided by La Sierra University. It originally appeared on the LSU website.

Main image: Religious studies major Gregory Jhanapin tries out a virtual reality video game in La Sierra University’s new virtual reality and artificial intelligence lab. All images courtesy of LSU.


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