Virtual reality is the next big thing for consumers. For Illinois State student Rachel White, it’s homework.

White and her 14 classmates are exploring virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality this semester in their arts technology class (ATK 380). And they’re not just doing it for a grade; they’re creating three interactive experiences that will wow hundreds of Illinois State alumni at a special event in Chicago in June.

Using a 360-degree video camera, White’s team is creating a Where’s Waldo-like game called Find Reggie. Alumni at the event will use VR glasses, such as Google Cardboard, to find Reggie in immersive ISU environments. The project requires White and her peers to learn about apps and technologies most of us have never heard of—the Unity gaming engine, Oculus Rift, Roundme, Vrse, and others.

“This class empowers you to discover things on your own.” —Rachel White

“This class empowers you to discover things on your own,” said White, a senior arts technology major. “The options for our game are really as unlimited as our ability to create code.”

The project is a new partnership between the arts technology program in the College of Fine Arts and Alumni Relations. Organizers of the June event approached Associate Professor Rose Marshack, hoping her class could create hands-on experiences that would evoke strong memories of Illinois State’s campus while also showcasing the cutting-edge work of our students.

“It’s been fabulous to watch these creative students in action,” said Doris Groves ’81, Illinois State’s executive director of alumni engagement.

Indeed, Marshack’s “class” is more like a creative workshop, with students divided into three smaller teams that ask big questions, swap ideas, and share expertise. On a recent Tuesday morning in their small classroom in Centennial West, Marshack said arts technology students know how to find creative solutions to problems—in this case, how do we bring Illinois State’s campus to an event at Navy Pier?

Rose Marshack teaches in a classroom

Associate Professor Rose Marshack uses Google Cardboard during a recent class in Centennial West.

Combining new technologies yields problems that have not yet been answered by anyone, including the teacher. Marshack constantly asks students, “Which part of the process have we not yet solved?”

“We’re making something that’s going to touch someone at this alumni event,” Marshack told STATEside. “The content we’re creating is going to be greater than just our code.”

In addition to the Find Reggie team, the two other groups are working on:

  • Walk the Quad, a virtual walk around Illinois State’s iconic Quad using VR glasses like Google Cardboard. The team has already designed a 3-D model of the Quad.
  • Giant interactive board that will display ISU facts, campus photos, and eye-catching information about attendees at the June event—personalized for whoever is standing in front of it.

Senior arts technology major Alex Zarek is one of the classroom’s overall leaders, also spearheading the interactive board. The freelance digital artist is already experienced in video, photography, and graphics, so he’s excited by the challenge of working on the code-driven board project.

“It’s cool to step out of the box,” Zarek said.

Alex Zarek talks to his team

Senior arts technology major Alex Zarek talks to his team during class.

During a recent class session, Zarek and his team members stood at the front of the classroom with Marshack as they discussed how an alum attending the Chicago event could step in front of their interactive board and tell it which decade they graduated from Illinois State. Finally, a breakthrough—they’ll use buttons on the floor that people can step on, triggering photos to pop up from that decade.

“Looking toward June 22, we’re shaping things that are going to be part of a larger experience for hundreds of people at this event,” Zarek said. “There’s a scope to this that’s bigger than a grade.

“It’s a big thing to take on,” he said. “It’s sort of remarkable.”

The students are also learning what it’s like to work for a client—in this case, Alumni Relations. During a recent pitch session, the students prepared a professional presentation that outlined their three projects, delivery dates, and what technology they’d need to make it happen.

Brendan Antonacci, a senior arts technology major, was one of the leaders at that presentation.

“To me, it’s not really homework anymore,” said Antonacci. “It’s a hobby.”

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Ryan Denham can be reached at