By KarI Y. Snyder, MFA
While teaching at the University of Houston, I noticed that Houston region technology and media students lacked paid internship opportunities to grow their skills under professional mentorship. I created and produced the XR Showdown training event to help solve this problem.
- Instructional Designer
- Showdown Creator
- Executive Producer (business development & fundraising)
- Creative Director (all graphics and promotional work)
- Director (live stream and event)
- Lead Editor
- 3 Co-Hosts
- 4 Co-Producers
- 7 Media Team Students
- 19 Software Students on four teams
- 37 Professional Mentors
- 9 Professional Advisors
- Fundraising and Pre-Production: 8 months
- Production: 6 weeks
- Post-Production: 6 months
- Adobe Creative Suite (InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere, Audition, After Effects, XD)
- Azure (AI and Machine Learning)
- HTML, CSS, and React
- MS Office
I sought to develop a rigorous XR training experience that brought together a team of college students from various colleges to create virtual reality and augmented reality projects under the direction of professional mentors. I reached out to sponsors so that the students were provided paid work even as they learned new skills.
Presented by ExxonMobil and hosted within the Ion XR lab, the XR Showdown™ involved college students and recent graduates creating VR/AR/MR simulations and games for enterprise use, followed by a review by potential employers, all featured in a livestream TV show followed by a documentary.
I created the showdown with the idea that a live-stream broadcast would allow employers to watch the students work as well as for other students around the world to be inspired and learn new skills as well. Each week of the showdown the live-stream episode featured a specific job. Students were interviewed regarding how they were conducting their work; professional mentors shared tips, and special guests offered fresh insights.
I raised $120,000 in sponsorship with ExxonMobil as presenting sponsor and Houston Community College (HCC) as a team sponsor. The ION co-working center in Houston offered the filming location for the event and assisted with additional outreach to employers. Hardware sponsor, MACE Virtual Labs, provided VR headsets. Other XR industry organizations provided more marketing support and opportunities for the students such as the Industrial VR/AR Forum allowing the student teams to present their work at a conference and meet more employers.
Over 50 students signed up for the event with twenty-six (26) students making the final selection based on a round of job interviews coupled with an on-camera test. Selected students were from the University of Houston, Texas A&M, The Art Institute of Houston and the Houston Community College. Four teams produced XR software projects while the media team documented their work. I secured thirty-seven (37) professional mentors who graciously volunteered their time to rate the skills and work of each student each week based on customized rubric I developed. An additional nine professionals were selected as an advisor group to review student applications and provide sponsor outreach connections.
AR Galveston History Museum Tour app
AR with machine learning Warehouse Object classification app for ExxonMobil
VR electrical engineer Training app for ExxonMobil
VR Oil Rig Training app for ExxonMobil
In order to best assess performance gaps and demonstrate successful skill growth, each week students were evaluated by professional mentors and rated 1-10 on job specific skills in the categories of Project Management, Programming, 3D Art & Design and UI/UX. I created the grading rubrics after interviewing 20 different professionals in each field. Each rubric was also reviewed and approved by the board of advisors prior to the showdown.
Outside of being evaluated each week, students could win special recognition badges for soft skill merits such as kindly assisting another student, helping clean up without being asked, and putting in extra time in study.
At the end of the six week internship, all four teams presented their final XR projects to see who would win the top prize. Due to the outbreak of COVID, only an online audience was able to participate since the in-person event was canceled. Despite that set back, the finale event was well received with over 1,200 views and a robust live audience of over 200 asking questions. Winners were announced for Top Project Manager, Top UI/UX, Top 3D Artist, Top Programmer and Top Project. Most importantly, five students were offered job opportunities.
"ExxonMobil is leveraging XR to create a safer and more effective workforce. We believe we are just hitting the tip of the iceberg with the technology and want to help drive it forward. XR Showdown™ represents an opportunity to continue on this journey together while helping universities build the skills needed for the future of Serious Games."
"Digital realities will continue to improve and evolve, but ExxonMobil is already using virtual reality for immersive learning to radically change the way we train employees. We hope XR Showdown™ will invite the curious and creative minds to harness the power of digital realities to improve our current reality!"