Finding Community... Virtually
flyer from the Dream University Challenge.

This past summer, due to COVID-19 distancing restrictions, a UR student inquired about virtual meeting spaces to foster community in lieu of our physical library spaces. We all miss the pre-pandemic opportunities to meet up and chat. The serendipitous catch-up on campus after class or in between meetings isn't really possible these days and poses a considerable problem for community building.

This student's inquiry inspired iZone and Studio X team members, including the Karp Library Fellows, to develop the Dream University Challenge, in which participants imagined, designed, and built virtual university spaces that provided these opportunities to connect. During the 2021 winter break, iZone and Studio X staff led student participants through design thinking and technical workshops. They then worked in teams using Mozilla Hubs, a free and open-source virtual reality platform, to create their own unique campus spaces.

Studio X and iZone staff members served as mentors during office hours and provided both conceptual and technical feedback throughout the week-long building phase. Two teams of four submitted links to their final projects and abstracts that described their concept and acknowledged sources.

The Submissions

Mozilla Hubs scene of a virtual Eastman Quad.
Different Mozilla Hubs scene compiled.

Dream Rush Rhees

Siladitya Khan, Carolina Lion He, Sydney Santiago, Debamitra Chakraborty

UR Haven

Miguel Yakouma, Koshala Mathuranayagam, Joey Chan, & Sophea Urbi Biswas

Explore in VR

Share a virtual room with friends in your browser! Both submissions embody UR pride, consider facilitating connections thoughtfully, and inspire new ideas about space and community. Click on the buttons below to visit these spaces.

New to Mozilla Hubs? Check out this tutorial.

Dream Rush Rhees

UR Haven

The Winners!

The public submitted over 200 votes and awarded the following:

Most Creative Concept
UR Haven

Most Desirable Campus Space
Tie! UR Haven & Dream Rush Rhees

Most of the Box
UR Haven

Most Likely to Facilitate Connections
Dream Rush Rhees


The judges awarded Best Overall Winner to…

UR Haven!


We would like to thank our amazing judges:

  • Wendi Heinzelman, Dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
  • Julia Maddox, Director of the Barbara J. Burger iZone, River Campus Libraries
  • Nefle Nesli Oruç ’22, Public Programs Coordinator, Karp Library Fellow
  • Joe Testani, Assistant Dean & Executive Director of the Greene Center for Career Education & Connections

The UR Haven team will receive UR-branded Google Cardboards and a cash prize of $100 for each team member.

At the celebration event, the winners were announced, and students discussed their experiences during the challenge and what they learned. Students expressed enthusiasm for the interdisciplinary collaboration and getting to know others outside of their usual friend groups. They also felt that, regardless of their technical level, they all had something to contribute. One international student appreciated the opportunity to stay connected to campus and the community. Another student noted that the structure of the challenge helped her to maintain a learning mindset during the long break. Others described learning how to consider user needs and how to collaborate in teams:

The challenge taught me that teamwork is all about clear communication, understanding how to think from other people’s perspectives, and respecting each other’s ideas and viewpoints.

Thank you so much to everyone who participated! We are grateful for the support from the River Campus Libraries and the Hajim School of Engineering.

Thank you especially to those who made this event so successful!

  • Mary Ann Mavrinac, Vice Provost and Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean of the University of Rochester Libraries
  • Matt Cook, Senior Communications Officer, RCL
  • Claudia Pietrzak, Student Programming & Social Media Manager, RCL
  • Sarah Gerin, iZone Community Manager, RCL
  • Zoe Wisbey, iZone Program Initiatives Manager, RCL

Organizing Committee:

  • Mike Arinarkin, Design Thinking Fellow (iZone)
  • Denis Cengriz, Online Instruction Lead, Karp Library Fellow (iZone)
  • Nadine Eldallal, Social Media Fellow (iZone)
  • Muhammed El-Sayed, Immersive Technologies Developer, Karp Library Fellow (Studio X)
  • Sebastian Jakymiw, Immersive Technologies Developer, Karp Library Fellow (Studio X)
  • Meaghan Moody, Immersive Technologies Librarian
  • Nefle Nesli Oruç, Public Programs Coordinator, Karp Library Fellow (Studio X)
  • Robert Petrosyan, Online Experience Designer, Karp Library Fellow (iZone)
  • Emily Sherwood, Director of Digital Scholarship