People can leave reality behind — perhaps for a bit — with the California State University, Long Beach, Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship's (IIE) campus-wide Virtual Reality (VR) Day. 

It's the first of its kind on campus, with the colleges of Arts, Engineering, Health and Human Services, and Liberal Arts collaborating.

The free event runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 9, with registration opening Monday, Feb. 26. Features include faculty and practitioner panels, keynote conversation, student/faculty demonstrations, new products from NativeVR and Wareplai, and a VR career readiness workshop. Lunch will be available for keynote conversation attendees at noon and coffee and refreshments will be on hand throughout the event.

The goal is to highlight the school's and industry's diversity, including gender, intellectual and racial, and prepare minorities to be VR industry contributors, organizers said.

The idea was sparked when CSULB communication studies professor Ebony Utley said she consulted for a virtual reality company and attended a Wonder Women Tech conference last year. At the conference, Utley said she experienced UTurn's VR film, where people can see what it's like to be both male and female at a male-dominated floundering tech startup.

"I turned to one side and I was a man, and on the other side, I was a woman," Utley said. "Then, I looked down and saw I was white... It took me a moment to process it."

She added she's an African American woman and wasn't sure how she felt at first.

"Seeing myself gave me pause both emotionally and physically," Utley said. "It took a minute before i could continue with the film. I study race and have been very race conscious for several years, so being white wasn’t necessarily a welcoming experience for me. My students are of a different generation with different racial sensitivities. I’m most curious to see how they experience it. there’s only one way to find out."

When she returned to CSULB, the IIE board member said she spoke with economics professor and IIE director Wade Martin about having a virtual reality conference, as predominantly white campuses frequently offered them.

"I thought, 'I'm teaching at a mostly Hispanic institution, so I need to get them in a headset,'" Utley said. 

Martin told Utley to plan the VR Day however she wanted, she said, without a budget. So, she said she asked different departments on campus to participate, as well as outside VR professionals. She said she received positive feedback, with participants lowering their usual rate. 

"Everyone's excited... I tried very hard to get different ethnicities, genders, backgrounds," Utley said.

Martin said only 60 VR goggles would be available, but there will be multiple opportunities for people to experience them. Other programs, such as gaming's Oculus Rift, will be on hand.

But other things were important, he said.

"What we're trying to show is how entrepreneurs can get around it and the important opportunities it presents," Martin said. 

He added people don't need to have a computer science major to incorporate virtual reality. Additionally, the day would help highlight how women are underrepresented in the VR workforce, and how men and women interpret information differently.

Utley said one of her favorite features was the midday career workshop. 

"We'll have them do pitching," Utley said. "Then, we'll force them to network with industry professionals."

Attendees are advised to bring smartphones, as certain demonstrations require downloading applications to run programming. People don't need to stay for the whole day, but because of limited space, organizers urge reservations.

Several locations will offer programs, so attendees can customize their schedules. VR demonstration participants must reserve a spot at the Duncan Anderson Gallery, Department of Design, event check-in. 

The IIE provides mentoring and programs meant to bring out creativity of students, faculty and the community to engage campus stakeholders, focusing on entrepreneurship and innovation. 

Parking at 6300 E. State University D, Suite 332, is $8 per day.

For more information, registration and program, visit www.csulb.edu/institute-innovation-entrepreneurship/vr-day-2018, call (562) 985-5076 or email csulb-iie@csulb.edu.

Emily Thornton can be reached at ethornton@gazettes.com

Emily is a staff writer covering higher education and other various topics for Gazette Newspapers. She has a background in weekly and daily newspapers and a bachelor’s in communication from La Sierra University.

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