By Deanna Garcia
Lehman College remains the only CUNY to house the Virtual Reality Academy and has been offering training programs since 2017 at its offsite Bronx location called CUNY on the Concourse (COTC).
“The idea is that our students, who have tremendous amounts of ideas, have an opportunity through this lab to be creative and to implement those ideas,” said Ronald Bergmann, Vice President and CIO of the Division of Information Technology at Lehman. Bergmann came up with the idea of an Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) lab at Lehman’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS).
“It’s a resource for the community to be able to ensure that Bronx residents and CUNY students have an opportunity to learn to use some leading edge technologies,” Bergmann explained. “We want our students and residents to take advantage of opportunities to learn how to leverage these technologies in their work and in their career.”
The center has fostered a wide range of student projects. Former VR students, Michael Brenner and Aaron Holness, used their legal education backgrounds to combine law with virtual reality. Their project grants lawyers with abilities to recreate crime scenes for case preparation purposes, including the elaboration of case theories before presented to a judge.
The VR Academy also helps students expand their businesses. Vincent Navarro, a VR graduate and trainer at VR Lab, is applying AR/VR for his software development business, with the goal of expanding to other countries, creating scientific and educational programs to train students with restrictions. Navarro began this venture in collaboration with Lehman’s chemistry department to include VR in their studies.
In 2016, to establish the program, Lehman partnered with the California-based EON Reality, which specializes in 3D interactive technologies and simulations to train, educate, manufacture and entertain those who are interested in the AR/VR world. In 2019, the academy switched its partnership from EON Reality to Unity, “basically the number one software for VR content creating,” explained Samira Bahrami, COTC director. “The VR program is educating the content creators to shape the future of education, training and entertaining.”
COTC, where the academy is housed, is located at 2501 Grand Concourse, and is part of Lehman’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS). “COTC provides space and educational support to SCPS departments, Lehman’s academic departments, as well as the industry partners,” Bahrami said. The space consists of 12 classrooms, which includes a VR lab, computer labs, healthcare labs, a computerized testing center and the Bronx Tech Incubator.
So far, two cohorts have completed the 10-month intensive program which included four months of training and six months of a project-based learning. After finishing the program, students earned AR/VR Developer level 2 certificates.
However, no credits are given to transfer into other Lehman programs. “We’re working on getting credits from Lehman’s academic departments for the whole AR/VR Academy, which would be helpful for computer science majors,” Bahrami said.
After completion, employment opportunities vary between the fields of architecture, product visualization, game creation, multimedia design and broadcast media. Students can also utilize what they learned to engage in new products.
“We are delighted with the way that the AR/VR Training Academy is adapting to the changing needs of the industry and evolving business development,” said Jane MacKillop, dean of SCPS. “Lehman College is truly an engine of economic development in the new Bronx!”
Lehman offers the program at a competitive price, considering that VR classes in NYC are not cheap. The School of New York Times is offering an online certificate in the subject for $645. At COTC, students can take a class and receive a certificate for a four-month training program for $450.
“While training exists for many parts of AR and VR in the city, there are few programs that cover the multidisciplinary nature of the industry,” said Bahrami. “The VR Academy is very affordable compared to other training in the city.”
Some students are unaware that Lehman offers such programs, though all those who were informed reacted with enthusiasm.
“This can definitely be a pathway to new experiences,” said Reynaldo Estrella, a 19-year-old biology sophomore at Lehman, when he heard about the VR lab.”
“I believe that a VR lab not only provides experiences, but also represents a potential change within society,” said Lehman student, Susan Lin, an 18-year-old nursing sophomore. “VR can explore and discover new things so that people can experiment with different solutions.”
Lehman accounting junior, Alex Adams, 21, said, “I haven’t personally used VR for my studies, but I see the kind of impact it could have for other students’ professions. I think it’s great that students can get professionally trained and experience what their career holds for them.”
The Virtual Reality Academy will be back for their 10-month training in spring 2020 and will use Unity’s software. During the semester, students will focus on 2D and 3D asset creation modeling, scripting and program techniques, project management, rigging and animation. Workshops and open houses are currently available for students who are interested in technology.