Arie Kaufman describes the Reality Deck located in the Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology (CEWIT) at Stony Brook as a dream he carried for a decade before finally getting the funding to build it. Ten years after its completion in 2012, the immersive display, the largest of its kind in the world, is serving as a valuable virtual reality training ground for high school students and a feeder for Stony Brook’s computer science undergraduate program.
CEWIT’s Reality Deck is a 30-foot-by-40-foot room covered with 416 27-inch screens, each with 4 million pixels, that immerses scientists, researchers and students inside a high-definition, 1.6-billion-pixel world.
“The vision has been to give everyone from the age of 5 to 105 on Long Island an opportunity to learn computer programming,” said Kaufman, chief scientist of CEWIT and a distinguished professor in Stony Brook University’s Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Kaufman and the Computer Science department have collaborated with kidOYO®, an education-focused nonprofit that builds mentor-led communities, prioritizing computational literacy for production-grade learning standards. The organization supports students in grades K-12, connecting them with opportunities in computer science and helping them develop entrepreneurial imagination and skills while the university’s students serve as mentors.
Kaufman was especially interested in working with kidOYO because the organization has close to a 50-50 male-female ratio.
“We need to make our program more attractive to female students,” said Kaufman. “It’s about building critical mass; we don’t want to have a single female student sitting in the back of the classroom. This was an opportunity to build a relationship for gender equality and have our own students serving as mentors.”
Earlier this year, kidOYO joined as an industrial member of the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Industry University Cooperative Research Center in CVDI (Center for Visual and Decision Informatics), which is directed by Kaufman. This new collaboration enables local high school students with an interest in coding and research to take advantage of Stony Brook’s facilities, while Kaufman’s PhD students serve as their mentors.
Through annual summer internships, Kaufman and kidOYO hope to spread the virtues of coding and computer programming as well as computer science research to high school students across Long Island.
“We want to get our program in front of more high school students who are well-trained in coding,” Kaufman said. “What they learned here was how to conduct computer science research. We want them to go back as ambassadors to their peers and tell them about their experience at Stony Brook.”
This summer, Kaufman and his PhD students hosted two high school juniors with interests in immersive virtual reality and augmented reality. Three PhD mentors worked closely with them.
“When they saw the Reality Deck, they said, ‘we’re not going anywhere, we’re staying right here,’” said Kaufman. “The time that we spent with them was a lot of fun. The complexity of what they did is exceptional.”