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Computer science senior projects shift to Game of Thrones-themed virtual reality

In a normal year, students Devin French and Seth Kith would present their senior project in a room filled with students, professors, evaluators and curious onlookers. 

However, COVID-19 has made 2020 anything but normal for University of the Pacific computer science students. 

Despite the pandemic, the senior project showcase and competition happened, thanks to virtual reality creations by University of the Pacific Libraries and the School of Engineering and Computer Sciences (SOECS)—notably a daughter-father collaboration. 

“I think it worked out successfully,” said Keely Canniff ’19, digital projects manager for the William Knox Holt Library and Learning Center. She led the effort to create the new virtual senior projects experience. “We knew we had to make it virtual, but we wanted to make the experience much more than a Webex or Zoom.” 

Keely Canniff earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 2019 from SOECS. She is less than one year removed from doing her own senior project—the traditional way. Her project was an “augmented reality” map of the Stockton Campus. 

“I gained a passion for virtual reality at Pacific and I am so grateful to be able to get this job and stay on campus,” she said. 

“Keely proposed the idea to go with a Game of Thrones theme for the virtual hall. There were a number of our students who are fans of the show,” said Michael Canniff, SOECS lecturer and Keely’s father. “In some ways, the virtual experience was better. Normally, you have people milling around. This format was very interactive.”

Keely Canniff described how the new senior day project exhibition and evaluation worked. 

“In virtual, medieval rooms, students stood by their posters and live-streamed demonstrations of their applications. Each room was uniquely designed to reflect the project’s achievements. Curious faculty and enthusiastic students spent the afternoon catching up with one another and presenting their projects in virtual reality. The judges had the opportunity to talk to the students and announce a winning project.”

French and Kith earned first-place for their project “Vibe Check,” which re-imagined the retro social media platform Myspace. Judges praised the project’s high level of technical expertise. Overall, there were 17 senior projects. 

The experience has opened discussions about next year’s senior projects.

“To make the pivot and to do so in a way that shows fluidity, and to problem-solve discussions in the moment via the software shows the ingenuity of our students,” said Osvaldo Jimenez, associate professor of computer science. “I think it could allow for a greater exposure of our senior projects in the future, allowing alumni and others in remote locations to experience senior project day.”

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