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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Tech.Global exposes students to VR, big data on an international scale

Carmen Valencia
A man walks into the Tucson International Airport on Monday, Oct. 17. Tech.Global gives students with disabilities an opportunity to study abroad without the worries of living abroad.

Somewhere in-between the Study Abroad Office and International Student Services sits Tech.Global, a single room in the UA office of Global Initiatives that is home to numerous projects of technological innovation.

Tech.Global is a non-credit, 100 percent engagement experience that houses six students who love technology and want to explore the world. These students are paid, and for at least 15 hours a week work on a number of projects, from maintaining online data maps to exploring the possibilities of virtual reality.

The program is overseen by Ash Black, a data scientist who has more than 20 years of IT and web development experience.

Black described what they do at Tech.Global as full stack development, meaning everyone does a little bit of everything.

Black directs the six student coders in things like programming, web design, interface and graphics. But besides just working on technology, the students at Tech.Global are unique in that they are all either international students or study abroad students.

Black said the goal is to take the skills they learn while working at Tech.Global, and to utilize them abroad, for projects like building an app or virtual reality blog.

“There’s research projects all over the place at the university that need high-end technology skills, and it just all clicked,” Black said. “Let’s build a study abroad program where we put in work building apps, and we went for it and that got started.”

The students are working on one particular project that has the potential to change the study abroad experience. With the evolving technology of virtual reality, Tech.Global hopes to find a way to create a virtual study abroad program, so students who might otherwise not be able to study abroad, such as students with physical disabilities or mobility issues, will be able to gain that experience.

Tech.Global will travel to Paris with the Africana Studies program over Thanksgiving, with equipment that will live stream and film their surroundings with 360-degree cameras. The hope is that the footage can be converted into material for virtual reality.

Robert Johnson, a Pre-business sophomore, whose main focus is virtual reality development at Tech.Global, said the skills he’s learning are invaluable.

“This isn’t turn this in, this is develop it and build it and get something tangible,” Johnson said. “All of this VR stuff that we’re doing, it’s small pushes that really build upon bigger objects. This opens the door for us to constantly try new things.”

The technology at Tech.Global is primarily focused on worldwide connection. The program is currently working with the University of Barcelona to develop new ways to understand data. Tech.Global is also partnered with the University of Oklahoma in an effort to find a way to be able to share virtual reality space.

“That’s the take-away ability for us to really make a point not only within the university nationally, but globally,” Johnson said.

Information science and technology senior Amit Sen has only been a part of Tech.Global for two weeks, but said he’s already gained a lot in ways that classes can’t teach.

“We want to showcase what we’re capable of and what they’re capable of and find that common ground and eventually hopefully make the world a better place,” Sen said.

There is no end time for any of the projects to be completed, as everything is constantly evolving. The hope is that one day, the projects that Black and the six students at Tech.Global are working on will have a real and important impact.

“The potential is great, and working here just sets that bar,” Johnson said. “Globally we have an impact, locally we have an impact, at the university we have an impact, so everything we do kind of has a self-footing.”

Follow Leah Merall on Twitter.

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