A group of people gather on a blue bridge with a city skyline in the background.

GR in XR combines GVSU technology, creative learning for a futuristic view of downtown Grand Rapids

Grand Valley showcased what the future could hold for downtown Grand Rapids through a special extended reality event that drew representatives from the university, community leaders and the public.

The September 21 event, GR in XR on the Blue Bridge, was held in conjunction with Tech Week Grand Rapids

Those who attended stopped at stations set up along the Blue Bridge, donned specialized VR headsets and immersed themselves in a futuristic visual representation of what could be ahead for GVSU's Innovation District, the Corewell Health Center for Transformation and Innovation, the expanded Grand Rapids Public Museum and a proposed outdoor amphitheater in downtown Grand Rapids.

A person hands a VR headset to another person.
President Philomena V. Mantella prepares to experience the technology.

The event also allowed GVSU to feature an effort underway to build what the university is calling the Blue Dot ecosystem. During remarks to kick off the event, President Philomena V. Mantella explained that the Blue Dot concept expands beyond physical locations on multiple campuses.

"Blue Dot was named as we think about the Earth and its place in the cosmos, which inspires all of us to explore and cherish our world," Mantella said. "As a metaphor, it underpins Grand Valley's vision for a forward-looking ecosystem where technology, creativity, collaboration and the pursuit of a brighter future seamlessly converge."

She said Blue Dot will allow GVSU and West Michigan to "meaningfully intersect so that the opportunity for technology and innovation can fuel our economic development." Mantella added that Grand Valley is committed to preparing students with future-ready skills to support that work.

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said the projects featured during the event show the power of collaboration – what she called the "special ingredient" for the advances Grand Rapids has seen – and the success that comes from leaders who are engaged in the greater good.

A person holds their hands on either side of a VR headset while watching images.
Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss tries out the technology.
A person gestures with the hand while speaking at a podium with the Grand Valley logo.
Randy Thelen, president and CEO of The Right Place, gave remarks at the event.

"They will be absolutely pivotal in continuing to be a city that attracts talent, a city where all of those awesome Grand Valley graduates want to stay, where they want to start a business, where they want to raise their families. That will be our city," said Bliss.

Statewide leaders focused on growing Michigan's population "can learn from Grand Rapids and West Michigan," she said.

GVSU collaborated on Tech Week GR with The Right Place, Inc. Randy Thelen, president and CEO of The Right Place, said the work of Grand Valley nurtures the talent of the people who are helping to grow the tech economy.

The future-looking event on the Blue Bridge was "the perfect way to embody what Tech Week is all about,” Thelen said. “We wanted to bring the community together and talk about people and our talent systems."

A person looks through a VR headset while standing before a screen.
A person wearing a jersey that says "Rockets" and the number 13 looks through a VR headset. A person smiles in the background.
Five people gather near a station that has VR technology. One person is wearing a headset.
Many people took advantage of the opportunity to view the innovative visuals.

The work showcased during the event was led by Julie Goldstein, assistant professor of film and video production, who worked with students using images to create the futuristic views. Goldstein said she was proud of the work by the students, who used reference drawings to create three-dimensional models for the project.

"I do see it as setting the tone for what our students are capable of," Goldstein said. "I'm really hoping that as they build their skillsets an employer might see an opportunity here to hire a student."

A person gestures with their hand while talking with others.
Julie Goldstein, center, led the project with students. Goldstein said she was an early adopter of the technology and has incorporated it into her classes since arriving at GVSU at 2017.
Three people grin as they watch a speaker.
Students Ben Stenglein, Andrew Schreur and Shane Belofsky worked intensively on the project.

A core group of three students worked through the summer and as the fall semester started to bring the GR in XR project to fruition: Shane Belofsky, Andrew Schreur and Ben Stenglein. Here are their reflections from  working on the project.

  • Belofsky, a film and video production major: "We were trying to showcase our work and learn along the way. We learned different software and techniques and tried to imagine the future of GR in a different way than we usually do."
  • Schreur, a film and video production major: "It gave us an opportunity to work with a lot of industry-standard tools and professional equipment. We used top-of-the-line computers and software and got hands-on experience working in the programs we're going to be spending the rest of our lives in."
  • Stenglein, a film and video production major: "I learned tons of life lessons as well as getting a sense of what the workplace is like, and getting a sense of what working with clientele is like. I think all of those things will translate to my career. You also see how the City of Grand Rapids and other officials are receptive to projects like this and to bringing students in and letting them create something. It's really inspiring and it makes me proud to live in a city that does something like that."


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