By Dana Yamashita

Imagine going into the field without leaving your office, your desk, or your classroom. That’s what students are doing with GeoExplorer — a game that provides an immersive mixed-reality experience for civil engineering students.

Using GeoExplorer, students are able to take measurements, make observations, and better understand how what they design might affect the environment, as well as how the environment might affect their design. Students will have the opportunity to design and virtually build structures, then observe how those structures respond to hurricane storm surges, pelting rain, or other extreme conditions.

“The goal is to improve geotechnical engineering education and build skills that will be relevant to 21st-century engineers,” said Victoria Bennett, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. “We think that some of those things can be learned through the use of mixed-reality gaming.”

The game was originally developed with researchers from Northeastern University, and companies Broad-based Knowledge and Deltares. Now, in a collaborative effort with Northeastern and Olin College and with the support of a $2.5 million multi-institution grant from the National Science Foundation, this unique approach to learning is being implemented at universities across the nation.

GeoExplorer will provide civil engineering students with practical field experience, something most are not able to do before beginning their careers. One student who used the game said the company with which she was interning could not believe she had not been out in the field before.

Tarek Abdoun, a chaired professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Bennett will manage the curriculum development and implementation at more than 20 universities nationwide, including Rensselaer, for about 6,500 students.

“It’s something we are very proud of, and we are happy to lead it,” Abdoun said.