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ODU Students Explore Possible Career Paths Through Virtual Tours

Old Dominion University's Career Management Center (CMC) has started to use the program Second Life to help current and incoming students explore career paths.

Second Life is an online, interactive, immersive computer program that allows participants to create an online version of themselves, called an avatar, and explore virtual worlds.

Second Life provides students with opportunities that simply aren't available, either because of safety or practicality concerns, said Tom Wunderlich, assistant dean of ODU's Career Management Center.

"The basic concept is to take students to see places they wouldn't normally get into, and interact with people whom they normally couldn't interact with," Wunderlich said.

Two courses are currently being taught through the CMC for ODU's University College - UNIV 200: Career Implementation and UNIV 400: Career Engagement - making extensive use of the Second Life technology. Last fall, one of the classes received a Second Life tour of IBM headquarters in Redmond, Wash. A Department of Energy trip is on tap for the fall semester.

Virtual tours have also been taken of Northrop Grumman in Newport News and Lockheed Martin in Suffolk, led by company executives located in Maryland and Colorado, respectively.

To prepare its student explorers, the CMC has created ODU Island, a virtual world where participants can practice the skills needed to master exploring in Second Life, such as how to manipulate your avatar's movements and what he or she sees.

Wunderlich said it's a sort of "sandbox," where users can "play" before going anywhere else in Second Life, be it another workplace, another university or even a virtual site completely unrelated to a career search.

One advantage of the CMC Second Life is that company officials are available by appointment to lead virtual tours and answer questions.

In addition to the classes through University College, the CMC has offered Second Life events for ODU's Early Engineering Advantage Program, a summer camp for admitted freshmen in the Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology.

Bev Forbes, director of experiential education with the CMC and liaison to the Batten College, said the young women in the program took a virtual tour of the Lockheed Martin Center of Innovation, led by an official from the aerospace company.

"They'll be able to compare the experience when the girls go for a real visit later in the summer," Forbes said.

Middle school and high school students in the university's Marine Tech Program, which is funded through a National Science Foundation grant and offered by Alok Verma, Ray Ferrari Professor of Engineering and director of the Lean Institute at ODU, have also used Second Life this summer.

The program's three classes have taken a total of six virtual field trips - two to Northrop Grumman and four to the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, R.I.

"We're currently using Second Life for everyone from middle school students up to graduating college seniors," Wunderlich said.

Eventually, the CMC hopes to have a course in every ODU college, whereby students can visit potential employers for their particular discipline.

"There are two advantages to this," Wunderlich said. "It provides opportunities that aren't readily available with employers in the 'real' world, and it's teaching a collaboration tool already widely used in business."

This article was posted on: August 16, 2010

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