Three teams from Syracuse University will travel to Washington, DC in April to compete in one of the main events of the Atlantic Coast Conference. But the venue is not what one would expect. Instead of joining other ACC teams on the playing field, the University will be represented among its peers at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History for the ACCelerate Festival, a celebration of creative exploration and innovative research that takes place at the intersection of ACC and Smithsonian science, engineering, arts, and design. Visitors will see 25 interactive installations created by students and faculty, interspersed with ongoing museum exhibits.
One of these interactive installations is Kairos: The Artifact. Led by Heath Hanlin, Associate Professor of Film and Media Arts at the College of Visual and Performing Arts, Kairos translates massive amounts of scientific data to introduce audiences to global warming hotspots in a multi-sensory virtual reality (VR) environment. . “I’ve been working on it for three years, with the idea that this project would engage science museums,” says Hanlin. “The logistics of presenting virtual reality in a museum are quite daunting.”
Hanlin contacted Emily Stokes-Rees, associate professor of museum studies and director of the School of Design. “The initial conversation was about how to make a visitor-friendly VR experience, including interpretive elements for people who are not actively using VR. We talked about the experience of the user, crowd control, how it unfolds and when people see the exhibit,” Stokes-Rees explains.
Along with a team of students, Hanlin and Stokes-Rees will collect data on how the experiment works in the context of an interactive exhibit. Their goal is to understand how the VR environment and experience can be structured and integrated into the mission of science museums. “The Syracuse Science and Technology Museum has been a great partner and helped us learn from their experience with technology, but that has been limited due to the pandemic,” Stokes-Rees says. “I can’t think of a better way to iron out bugs in the system than the ACCelerate festival,” adds Hanlin. “Students immediately seized the opportunity here and started asking the right questions. ACCelerate will give us real-world data that we can apply to iterate on how we present this powerful experience focused on climate change, with the ultimate goal of educating people and inspiring them to action.
Bruce Kingma, professor of entrepreneurship at the School of Information Studies and the Whitman School of Management, takes his students from the Innovation, Design and Startups program to lead an interactive invention experience designed to spark the creativity of festival-goers. “I teach the creativity course and the first tasks students encounter is to create a new toy that meets the needs of a similar demographic to a favorite toy they had as children,” says Kingma. . “Students are coming up with just amazing things and we have video clips of those presentations from past semesters.”
Inspired by these ideas, children visiting the ACCelerate Festival will be able to complete an Ideas Card with a new toy idea. “We’ll choose three of the best ideas and the winners will receive Syracuse University loot,” Kingma says. He sees the ACCelerate experience as a great way to think about creativity: “The goal of the IDS program is to create new ideas, encourage innovation and help students start new businesses. We want to enable students to bring their ideas to life,” he adds.
The third University team is not an exhibitor. Seth Gitner, associate professor of magazine, news and digital journalism and visual communication at the Newhouse School, will mentor a team of visual communication students who will create journalistic coverage of the festival. “It replicates the experience of being parachuted into an event, which is always an interesting endeavor because you don’t know what they’re going to get,” says Gitner.” Gitner deliberately leaves the desired outcome vague. Students can choose to do a photo documentary or a video, but he considers it their choice. “As a journalist, you have to talk to people, understand the story, find your angle, connect with your characters. I will be in an executive producer role, there for support and guidance. But it’s really the students who run their own show and determine how they’re going to convey what it’s like to be at that event and what stories come out of it.
“We are thrilled to support five professors and 20 students from Syracuse University — through competitive grants provided by the Office of Research and SOURCE — to enable their participation in the ACCelerate Festival,” said Ramesh Raina, Vice-Chancellor. Acting President for Research. “The Office of Research is proud that we can provide a mechanism for students to partner with faculty in new ways to experience hands-on learning for themselves and create ways for the public to learn in turn. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be exposed to new research and creative ideas from other ACC schools, as well as showcasing some of the incredibly innovative work that Syracuse is known for.