OSWEGO — Seven SUNY Oswego human-computer interaction students spent part of their summer in Vietnam working on advanced technology, making new connections and sharing their knowledge.
Partnering with Jolanda Tromp — the director of the Center for Visualization and Simulation of Duy Tan University, who has also taught at Oswego — the students worked on training tools that will aid medical and other professionals.
The center specializes in developing a range of 3D virtual simulations. Oswego students worked with the center’s main software products, for a human anatomy training tool that can run on phones, tablets and desktops as well as in virtual reality headsets.
“The students from Oswego spent the summer redesigning the interfaces to the full range of products” for the training tool, said Damian Schofield, who coordinates Oswego’s HCI program and was the team leader for the experience. “This involved a significant amount of user experimentation — setting up and running lots of tests.”
Each HCI student has to complete two graduate research projects, and many found this an excellent opportunity for obtaining international experience and hands-on user interface/user experience (UI/UX) work.
“I already knew Jolanda, because she was the advisor of the club I ran, Women in Computing,” said Oswego HCI student Annie Reynolds. “I’d never been to the other side of the world. I knew it would be an affordable option and I was excited to experience a new culture.”
HCI student Noelle LeRoy appreciated the opportunity to bring what they have learned into the project. “In our UI/UX experiences, we’ve been taught to improve the usability of products,” she said, and this was a dynamic example of working with a “virtual reality system that was extensively lifelike.”
Somewhat of a language barrier existed, but students from both cultures found ways to work together.
“I did learn that I’m really good at communicating with body language,” LeRoy said.
It helped that the teams had a common goal, significant technical knowledge and adopted a can-do attitude, she added.
“Communication is hard, but with patience and determination, people will do their best when you communicate the right way,” Oswego HCI student Oliver Medonza said. “It is necessary to listen as much as you speak in order to get the best job done.”
An opportunity for Reynolds and fellow HCI student Tara O’Grady to present at the large Google I/O conference in Vietnam came via Tromp, who was asked to speak but “thought it would be a great opportunity for us instead,” Reynolds said.
“Tara and I were brainstorming and we eventually agreed to give a talk on pervasive augmented reality in education,” Reynolds said of the field that adds computer-generated images onto a real-world experience. “Pervasive means that the technology is more accessible, but more specifically it is becoming more naturally integrated into our daily lives. … We provided two demos that focused on art and science in conjunction with augmented reality.”
Reynolds and O’Grady, who started Oswego’s Girls Who Code chapter in 2017, had an opportunity to pass along their success to contacts in Vietnam, both through presenting at the large SURF (Start Up Really Fast) business startup conference in Da Nang and in the local community.
“We’ve had up to 20 girls a week come to our club meetings,” Sullivan said of Oswego’s chapter. “We teach lessons on powerful women in STEM to provide examples of representation. We also teach basic logic and introduce girls to different programming languages and hardware based on their interests.”
In Vietnam, they were happy to share what they learned with Trang Han Tran, founder of Enouvo IT solutions.
“She had been wanting to do this herself for years, but had never found the time to start,” Reynolds said.
“After we had enough people sign up, we started to hold weekly workshops at Enouvo Space,” Reynolds recalled. “The women who attended our workshops were very diverse. Some had been programming for a couple years, some were still in school, and others had followed other career paths but were interested in computer science. However, they all shared a common interest of teaching young girls in Vietnam how to program.”
LeRoy and fellow Oswego student Zhushun (Timothy) Cai had the opportunity to help edit parts of a forthcoming book from Wiley publishers, “Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality Technologies and Applications for Health And Medicine.” LeRoy expects this to lead to related editing opportunities.
The students said they enjoyed becoming immersed in a different culture.
They traveled extensively to historic sites and natural attractions in the countryside and became familiar with the pace and people of Da Nang.
The city of Da Nang is rapidly updating and upgrading its infrastructure and buildings, and most of its bridges have been constructed in the past few years, LeRoy said. During her relatively short stay there, she saw a whole apartment building constructed from the ground up.
The people seemed to be “always on the go,” but not necessarily hurried, LeRoy said.
She saw much of her neighborhood get up early, go to the beach to do yoga, go to work, come home and then find productive ways to spend their time.
Reynolds appreciated the work-life balance she saw.
“Everyone works hard, respects their family and time together, takes education, physical and mental health seriously, and works to create something larger than themselves,” she said. “Being surrounded by people who love their work, family and lives is inspiring. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by tasks I have to complete that I forget to take the time to enjoy my friends, family, good food and my alone time.”
Like the other students, Medonza would love to return, too — and he would like to call the place home.
“This experience opened my eyes to all the new possibilities out there,” Medonza said. “I know one day I’m going back to Vietnam for the rest of my life. Something about the way they lived connected on a level that cannot be expressed.”