Technology Gives Eastern Students a Competitive Edge

Elsa M. Núñez, President, Eastern Connecticut State University
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Elsa M. Núñez, President, Eastern Connecticut State University

Elsa M. Núñez, President, Eastern Connecticut State University

Fascinating new technology tools are being used by Eastern Connecticut State University faculty to prepare students for a global economy driven by technological change. The latest technology is allowing students to see and react to the world differently in and outside the classroom, as they get ready for a variety of career fields.

3-D Printing: From the Abstract to the Concrete

Using digital models, students can now fabricate three-dimensional objects in Eastern’s 3-D printing lab, located on the fourth floor of the J. Eugene Smith Library. The lab has five 3-D printers that print in a variety of colors using recyclable plastic. Faculty and students in academic departments ranging from Environmental Earth Science to Theatre are finding exciting new applications for the 3-D printing technology.

  The latest technology is allowing students to see and react to the world differently in and outside the classroom, as they get ready for a variety of career fields  

Environmental Earth Science faculty are using the printers to create everything from topographical models of Connecticut rock formations to replicas of dinosaur tracks found at Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, CT. Working with fellow professors Peter Drzewiecki and Bryan Oakley, Professor Drew Hyatt has created quarter-scale models of the dinosaur tracks for future inclusion in science kits used by middle school and elementary school children.

Computer Science Professor Joel Rosiene uses 3-D printing in his Game Design course to introduce students to 3-D modeling, which is a component of video game development.“Through the use of the modeling software and the resulting printed object, students see their abstract concepts rendered into concrete (plastic) form.”

Associate Professor of Theatre Kristen Morgan and her students use the 3-D printers to design theatrical scenery. “Students create scaled pieces of scenery and furniture for models of their stage designs,” said Morgan. “They can create unusual shaped pieces relatively quickly and can save hours of work by finding an existing model of a particular piece of furniture and printing it, rather than carving it by hand.”

In her Introduction to 3-D Animation course, Boya Li, assistant professor of art and art history, uses the printers to introduce students to 3-D modeling techniques such as polygonal modeling, image texturing, lighting and rendering a scene. “They are learning the basic skills of building polygonal models using industry standard 3-D software to expand their awareness of digital imaging applications in commercial fields.”

Motion Capture Opens Up New Horizons

Eastern now owns an eight-camera “Optitrack” system with two motion capture suits to record human motion on a digital medium. The equipment is housed in the Fine Arts Center, but the system is portable and can be used anywhere on campus. “We currently have it set up in the Delmonte Studio Theater,” said Morgan, “and my student Zach Parisella, is doing an independent study on the installation and running of the system.” Morgan collaborated with Greg Kane, associate professor of kinesiology and physical education, to purchase the system with a “21st Century Technology-Rich Learning and Teaching” grant from the federal government.  Applications of the new technology range from analyzing sports-related body movements to creating animated movies such as “Avatar” and “Lord Of The Rings”.

Digital Lab Brings History to Life

Through the diligence of the History faculty and a large gift from an anonymous donor, Eastern opened its Digital History Lab on the fourth floor of Webb Hall this past fall. The new lab, which formerly served as an Information Technology workroom, features a variety of computers and specialty equipment — such as a machine that digitizes microfilm — to provide students with fingertip access to historical resources from around the globe.

The Eastern’s Digital History Lab is the only lab of its kind serving undergraduates in Connecticut and one of only a few in the nation. The lab allows students to create and analyze relational databases, visualize data in new ways, and work collaboratively—even remotely—using shared digital resources.

"The lab also contains an interactive touch-screen display that allows hands-on manipulation of digital data,” said Jamel Ostwald, professor of history. “Specialized historical software supplements standard software suites, which allows the lab to be used for a variety of digital history projects, ranging from historical databases to oral history projects to online history exhibits to historical mapping.”

In addition to Ostwald’s own work, other history professors using the new lab include Stefan Kamola, whose students are studying “The Silk Road,” the trade route that connected China and Europe 2,000 years ago; Thomas Balcerski, whose research interest is the U.S. presidents of the Antebellum Era; and Bradley Davis, who is using the lab to examine the Yao language of the Yao People of Vietnam.

3-D Projection System Gives Theatre Students More Multi-Media Options. In the New Media Studies program, a 3-D projection system uses two different computer technologies—“Pandora’s Box” and “Watchout”—to provide students with the ability to project three-dimensional images and motion video onto live theatrical scenes.  Theatre Professor Kirsten Morgan and her theatre students used the system to create and project images onto backgrounds during the recent production of “Thread City,” a multi-media drama about the history of Eastern’s hometown of Willimantic, CT.

As technology continues to define the careers of tomorrow, Eastern students are in good stead, thanks to the innovative approaches and technology acquisitions undertaken by our faculty.

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