In the past year, visitors to the Carlson Science and Engineering Library at the University of Rochester may have heard a light humming sound. It could have been the lights, but it also could have been Mary Ann Mavrinac Studio X.
Studio X has been busy and, by all accounts, had an incredible 2022, which included nine student-led workshops (129 attendees), 32 events (810 participants), and providing an intro to XR to 529 first-time users. The year was punctuated by a grand opening celebration that served as a victory lap for staff. As director Emily Sherwood notes in Studio X’s inaugural annual report, “The past year wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns.”
Sherwood was being exceedingly modest. And truth be told, she could have been describing the past three years, which included challenges like supply chain issues and being short-staffed.
The grand opening was the culmination of extensive ideation and user research, construction, team-building, and a multiyear soft-launch period. Throughout most of this work, Sherwood has had the steady and adept right hand of immersive technologies librarian Meaghan Moody.
Shortly after 2023 began, Moody’s efforts were formally recognized when she was made “Assistant Director of Studio X.” This also means she manages the work of Studio X’s full-time staff, Aleem Griffiths, section supervisor, and a soon-to-be-hired XR developer.
“This title reflects the work that Meaghan has always done for Studio X,” says Sherwood, “as well as the leadership and tremendous dedication that she’s shown in getting the space and program up and running and making it a success.”
We talked to Moody to learn more about the nature of her work and her future with Studio X.
Meaghan, pretend we don’t know you. Tell us what you do for Studio X.
I’m very tempted to just say I’m a mystical immersive technologies wizard. But more seriously, I oversee the daily operations of Studio X. So, that’s a little bit of everything, including overseeing spaces, staff, resources, and all of the programming, like our workshops and events.
Can you get in some specifics? What are some things you might be doing on any given day?
Sure. Sometimes I’m researching equipment to buy. We recently purchased three Meta Quest Pros, which is exciting. Aleem and I opened and processed all of that equipment. Part of this ties into my work with our lending system.
Another example is we might have a class coming in. So, I may be getting a PowerPoint presentation ready and talking with Aleem about the type of equipment we need and what experiences we want on headsets. And then I’ll actually lead the workshop.
We also have a marketing team. I have a weekly meeting with them, where we discuss Tik Tok content, Instagram reels, and flyers for programming.
I might be working with a faculty member or another campus unit. I’ve been trying to make inroads with the Language Center. Their director, Teresa Valdez came in recently, and we talked about how we could support their work. I’ve also been working with Myounghee Cho, a faculty member, who wanted to use VR to teach her students about Korean festivals in an immersive way. She is also interested in using our 360 cameras to create her own course content.
I also applied and was accepted to a creator program called Zoe Immersive. It’s an easy-to-use VR creation tool made for educators. I’m part of a cohort that is going through lessons. It’s great because making a VR experience is really, really hard, and people often don’t have the skill set needed to do it, but with this tool, you don’t need it.
A little bit of everything—got it. Looking forward, it seems like your team is hitting its stride. Are you excited about where Studio X is going?
That’s something I’ve talked about a lot with Emily. This past year and a half have felt overwhelming because we were so deep in the weeds, trying to get up and running, setting up all of our policies, and making sure people actually knew we were here. Now, we’re getting closer to being fully staffed. I’m really excited about hiring an XR developer. I think that’s really going to help give us the capacity to work on more faculty research projects and start to contribute to the curriculum more sustainably.
So, what comes next for you and your team?
I’d like to see more XR teaching and research. We've been so focused on the small things. Now we can start doing more prototypes with faculty. I don't think we'll ever be in a place where we’ll be building things on demand, but we can get people in a comfortable starting place.
I’m also very excited about our VR alchemical laboratory, Aurum, created in collaboration with the Robbins Library. Our students presented at Frameless in the fall. They’re going to try to have a mini-game created by the end of spring.
And Emily and I are also really looking forward to building into the curriculum and having an XR certificate or cluster. I’m also going to look into creating a one- or two-credit intro to XR course—sort of like what iZone has—with our incoming developer.
Lastly, I’ve been working on my own XR skill set. I’ve been learning Unity and how to create 3-D models in Blender. It’s been challenging because there are usually so many things going on that I often don’t have time to sit down and focus. This past fall, I was part of a cohort to learn the fundamentals of VR and Unity, which was really helpful. I hope to focus more on AR development with Unity in the spring.
That’s one of the best parts of my job. I’m learning stuff all the time. ∎
For more on Studio X or Meaghan Moody’s work, ask her. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.