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Photo from Tian Pei

Creativity and technology intersect in the University of Pennsylvania’s first cross-campus virtual reality and augmented reality organization: PennImmersive. Formerly a student-run organization, PennImmersive is now a Penn Libraries initiative that has been exposing students to virtual reality throughout the past semester.

PennImmersive was co-founded in 2016 by Tian Pei, a 2018 Wharton MBA graduate, with the goal of creating a community for people to learn more about virtual reality, augmented reality, and 3D platforms.

“We started in 2016 when there wasn’t a significant presence of virtual and augmented reality on campus, and especially not at Wharton," Pei said.

Students who helped found PennImmersive said that they envisioned the organization would help students across Penn experience virtual reality through conferences, workshops, and other events. 

“Our vision was to bring immersive technologies to all 12 Penn schools," past board member and 2018 Wharton MBA and School of Design graduate Isabella Tang said.

“We want to create opportunities where we can listen to conversations between academia and industries on all the ways that virtual reality can be important," added former board member Chloe Snyder, who is a 2018 Engineering M.S. graduate. 

PennImmersive merged with Van Pelt Library in 2017, where the program hosts workshops for students and faculty to learn about Google Cardboard, a platform in which users experience virtual reality on their smartphones with a headset, and 3D printing.

After the student board members graduated in 2018, the Van Pelt Library took over leadership for the project and transformed the organization into a public research project for the Year of Innovation, the Provost's Academic Theme for 2017-2018

“We wanted to start an organic initiative to investigate how these technologies may be useful in teaching, research, and learning,” said David Toccafondi, manager of the Vitale Digital Media Lab and the Hechtman Recording Studio. 

Under the leadership of Penn Libraries, PennImmersive is now committed to creating a community where people can share resources and facilitate research for virtual reality. PennImmersive also regularly hosts workshops and open houses for students to gain first-hand experiences in virtual reality.

Although the project was initially planned to be a year-long initiative, Toccafondi says he sees potential for the project to be long-lasting.

“People did not want us to stop. People kept referring people to us. It clearly had a momentum, and I don’t think we could have stopped even if we wanted to,” said Toccafondi.