Elgin Community College gets $94K grant for virtual reality headsets, software

VR requipment to assist students to try out different jobs, careers

Elgin Community College received a $94,000 grant from the Illinois Community College Board to buy 11 virtual reality headsets and supporting technology to assist students in their career choices.

ELGIN – The virtual reality world – virtual means not really – is more than putting on a headset and playing a video game.

At Elgin Community College, it’s going to offer students a virtual glimpse into a possible career choice, said Tim Whitney, director of corporate and community education.

“Students come in and they really don’t know what they want to do,” Whitney said. “This gives them a chance to try out a handful of different jobs, to have guidance of what those jobs are really like in the real world. ... You put on a headset and go pick the job you’re interested in and spend eight to 10 minutes actually doing something a person would do in that job.”

Elgin Community College secured a $94,000 grant from the Illinois Community College Board to buy 11 headsets with supporting technology from a company called Transfr. The company has dozens of job simulations for students to sample in a three-dimensional platform, Whitney said.

“The piece I am most excited about is career exploration. They really do get a sense of what dozens of different jobs are like and the quality of simulation is enough that they might be interested,” Whitney said. “It would not replace an internship or apprenticeship.”

Elgin Community College student Chris Lara, of Streamwood, tries one of the college's virtual reality headsets to see if a job in health care is a right fit for him. The college was one of a dozen community colleges to receive an Illinois Community College Board grant to buy 11 headsets and equipment.

The second thing for the college to explore is whether the technology would be useful in the classroom.

“For example, in our manufacturing programs, do they help students be more successful in class or more safe on the job? Do they know what they’re getting into when they pick a particular class or profession? Is it a viable classroom technology?” Whitney said.

One example would be a student in health care studies could use it to experience everything from blood pressure checks to assisting in an emergency room setting.

“The technology is relatively new and one of the things we are exploring is [whether it] is something that could potentially change the way we educate our students,” Whitney said.

The college will get the equipment in another month, he said.

The college already has five virtual headsets from Transfr with jobs in its platform from an earlier grant and Whitney has tried several in the company’s platform.

“So far, I climbed up a radio tower and I helped at the scene of a car accident in an EMT (emergency medical technician) role,” Whitney said. “And one that was repairing a damaged network cable. That was boring. It was confirmation for me that I don’t really want to do this job.”

Another simulation was in a warehouse where a conveyer belt broke and the simulation was welding it back together while wearing all of the safety gear, Whitney said.

The Illinois Community College Board split $766,000 in grants for virtual reality equipment and software for career and technology education among 12 Illinois community colleges. Individual grant amounts were awarded based on college program and equipment needs.

The other 11 community colleges that received virtual reality grants were:

• Harry S. Truman in Chicago - $49,550 for recruitment and automotive technology and career exploration

• Illinois Central in East Peoria - $54,060 for emergency medical technician and paramedic

• Heartland in Normal - $73,000 for nursing and welding

• Lincoln Land in Springfield - $91,688 for health professions, workforce institute, arts and communications

• John A. Logan in Carterville - $49,840 for criminal justice and recruitment

• Spoon River in Canton - $23,481 for recruitman and career and technology education

• College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn - $52,205 for welding

• Moraine Valley in Palos Hils - $38,098 for heating, ventilating and air conditioning

• Rend Lake in Ina - $50,645 for recruitment

• Carl Sandburg in Galesburg - $89,509 for welding and recruitment

• Oakton in Des Plaines - $100,000 criminal justice and drone piloting