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UC uses VR to celebrate Bicentennial

The University of Cincinnati’s Bicentennial Charter Week kicks off with interactive virtual reality installations across campus

As the University of Cincinnati embarks on its 200th anniversary year, several events are planned to celebrate this milestone. UC Bicentennial Charter Week, which runs Jan. 15-19, commemorates the signing of the charters that founded the Medical College of Ohio (precursor to the UC College of Medicine) and Cincinnati College.

Student uses virtual reality headset and handheld controllers

Much of the work on this VR project was done by UC students.

As part of the commemoration, UC will unveil across its campuses a series of immersive experiences developed by the university’s Center for Simulations & Virtual Environments Research (UCSIM), working with many UC colleges, departments and students. Members of the UC community and visitors can check out these installations and, using virtual reality technology, travel through time and across various locations to learn more about UC’s history in a thoroughly modern way.

VR booths are located in Tangeman University Center, University Pavilion and CARE/Crawley, where they will be available through November. A mobile unit will travel to UC Blue Ash (February-March), the Campus Recreation Center (April-May) and UC Clermont (September-October). Volunteers manning each station will set up users with a wireless VR headset and handheld controllers. The VR experience begins with the Bearcat, who provides instructions. From there, users are free to explore five interactive, five-minute vignettes that highlight how the pillars of UC’s strategic direction Next Lives Here — academic excellence, urban impact and innovation agenda — have been woven into the fabric of the university for 200 years.

Virtual Bearcat mascot

Users are greeted by a virtual Bearcat, who guides them through five vignettes.

Diversity and Inclusion: An Ecosystem of Inclusion

In this vignette, the user meets a virtual UC alumna, Marian Spencer, a lifelong champion of civil rights and the first African-American woman to be elected to the Cincinnati City Council. Spencer shares her experience as a young black student at a still-segregated campus in 1939, and the VR user works with her to construct a vibrant exhibit that recalls the university’s civil rights history and commemorates the struggle to create a modern ecosystem of equity and inclusion in 2019 and beyond.

Bearcat Spirit: Boldly Bearcat

Since the adoption of the “Baehr-Cat” in 1914, the mascot has been a symbol of pride and accomplishment as Bold Bearcats forge new futures at UC. In this vignette, the user becomes the Bearcat in the fall of 1924, when the James Gamble Nippert Memorial Stadium was dedicated. The Bearcat pumps up the crowd before the big game and participates in a variety of scenes to cheer on UC students, faculty and staff as they boldly serve the Cincinnati community, the Tristate region and the world. 

The Cutting Edge: Research

Virtual scene of Albert Sabin in his lab

Here, users find themselves transported to April 9, 1959, in the laboratory of Albert Sabin, inventor of the oral polio vaccine. Sabin asks for assistance in order to advance the distribution of the miraculous innovation, including identifying the polio virus through a microscope, leafing through Sabin’s handwritten notes and preparing sugar cubes for the “Sabin Sundays” vaccination events with children. The vignette highlights the ingenuity of Bearcats through all eras of UC and foreshadows additional great breakthroughs in science by students and staff for years to come.

Campus on the Move: Architecture

Evoking the joy a child feels playing with a model train set, the user sees the evolution of UC’s campus in miniature, celebrating the different styles and architectures through the ages. In each year, the user can pick up and play with “toy” cars, trees and other period appropriate models and details while learning more about the history of the UC’s award-winning campus architecture as we dial through the past, present and future.

Living, Learning, Leading: Pedagogy

Virtual rendering of a 1819 classroom

The classroom is the iconic location of learning, and as the classroom experience has changed over the university’s 200 years, so have the students and faculty. In this vignette, the user becomes a student at UC in 1819, in 1919 and in 2019, experiencing the evolution of teaching and classroom technologies from chalkboards to tablets, as well as the changing composition of the student body. The user can celebrate the broadly diverse student body in 2019 and experience the shift from a faculty-centered learning environment in 1819 to the fully student-centered approach of modern learning pedagogies in 2019.

With the vision from faculty, staff and alumni on the Bicentennial Legacy Committee, the VR installations feature the work, from concept to completion, of students from the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning; the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services’ School of Information Technology; the College of Engineering and Applied Science; and the Carl H. Lindner College of Business.

“What pleases me most is how various university entities collaborated to create this fascinating look at UC’s amazing legacy,” says Bicentennial Co-chair Kim Dobbs. “Using students to develop each vignette is faithful to our mission to engage our future leaders in meaningful ways. Each vignette gives the participant a closer look at how UC is unique and why we are Boldly Bearcat.”

Booth with photos of UC history in an atrium

Seen here in CARE/Crawley, VR booths are also located in TUC and University Pavilion, with a mobile unit traveling to UC Blue Ash, UC Clermont and the Campus Recreation Center.

This virtual reality project is a result of the UC Foundation and Bicentennial Legacy Committee going in a more forward-thinking direction in terms of traditional bicentennial monuments, says Chris Collins, senior IT manager at UCSIM. “They really wanted something more alive, more now, something that students would connect with.” Instead of a physical statue or bench, this virtual “monument” is interactive, while providing many with their first opportunity to experience VR.

“We hope it inspires students to think of themselves as being part of the university community and having the ability to have real, meaningful impact,” Collins says. “It’s not just evoking some nostalgia, but the idea that UC’s a place to be proud of.”

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The Ascent Across Two Centuries

For more on UC's legacy, check out the university's extensive historical timeline.

Next Lives Here

The University of Cincinnati is classified as a Research 1 institution by the Carnegie Commission and is ranked in the National Science Foundation's Top-35 public research universities. UC's graduate students and faculty investigate problems and innovate solutions with real-world impact. Next Lives Here.

Become a Bearcat

Apply online or get more information about undergraduate enrollment by calling 513-556-1100. Learn more about UC's many undergraduate and graduate programs.

Featured image at top: A user engages with the Bicentennial VR installation in a booth inside CARE/Crawley. Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative Services.