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Virtual Reality Project Earns Second NEH Grant

Associate Professors Laura Chipley and Samara Smith of the American Studies/Media & Communications Department at SUNY Old Westbury have received a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to create a prototype of their immersive virtual reality project, “Virtual Aquapolis.” The $100,000 grant, one of 10 awarded nationwide, is part of the “Digital Projects for the Public” program that supports projects that significantly contribute to the public’s engagement with humanities ideas.

The 2024 NEH Digital Project for the Public grant is the second received by Chipley and Smith for “Virtual Aquapolis.” The first, awarded in 2021, created the design plan for the project. The second phase will include building out the virtual reality scenes.

“Virtual Aquapolis” will be an immersive virtual reality (VR) and interactive web experience that invites visitors to explore the past, present, and future of the New York Harbor from beneath the surface of the water. The VR project will allow visitors to experience 500 years of human-driven transformation in five scenes, each depicting a key era in the Harbor’s underwater environmental history.

“What makes this project unique, and worthy of this recognition from the National Endowment for the Humanities, is how it explores not only a physical underwater ecosystem, but its relation to the human beliefs, knowledge and values in the city above it. It’s a ‘virtual’ realization of how human culture can impact the elements,” said Dr. Cheryl Wilson, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. “We’re excited to see the evolution of ‘Virtual Aquapolis’ and the continued innovations and dedication of its faculty collaborators.”

— Submitted by SUNY Old Westbury

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