This June 2023, Andrew Rukangu received the ASEE 2023 National Conference Paper Award in the Division for Computers in Education for his publication on “Virtual Reality for Robot Control and Programming in Undergraduate Engineering Courses.” Andrew shared, “The paper is on the use of Virtual Reality (VR) to make robots accessible to engineering students. I worked with Dr. John Morelock and Dr. Kyle Johnsen, and we came up with a study to investigate the effectiveness of using a virtual robot in undergraduate engineering courses and whether it would affect student motivation.”
Andrew became involved in this research after he was selected as one of the Dean’s Engineering Education Fellows in 2023, which allowed him to undertake research with an Engineering Education Transformations Institute (EETI) faculty member for one semester, and then work as an instructor of record another semester. “I worked with Dr. Morelock as the Engineering Education expert and Dr. Johnsen, who’s my advisor in the Virtual Experiences Laboratory (VEL), as the VR expert. The idea for this research came to me because, during my undergraduate studies, I faced challenges with the availability of high-quality hardware. Initially, I wanted to connect students in Kenya with the virtual robot to students at UGA, but eventually due to logistics, I had to adjust and work with just students at UGA,” explained Andrew Rukangu.
To prepare for the conference, Andrew had several meetings and conversations with Drs. Johnsen and Morelock about his project, the results, and his paper. Andrew said “by the time the conference came around, I was ready to present, and I had a good grasp of the impact of the project. I also presented a poster of the work in an ECE poster competition, and we won first place in that as well. I took the feedback on the slides and presentation from my mentors and implemented them for the conference. Furthermore, I got to present the work to UGA students and faculty as part of the DEEF fellowship and all this gave me ample preparation for the conference.”
“This was my second time at ASEE, but it was my first time presenting at ASEE because I was only an attendee when I first went in 2019. I have presented at other conferences, with most of them being in the VR realm, like IEEEVR and SUI. I also presented at a conference involving the military and academia (I/ITSEC) and our paper, which was about connecting deploying service members with their families, was the best paper in the simulation category. This was a joint research project between several departments at UGA (engineering, journalism and sociology).
“I met several researchers that work in Virtual Reality, and I exchanged contact information with them. Also, I made connections with the board of the COED division, and I plan on being an editor for the journal in addition to publishing the paper as a journal article. I met interesting folks at random, like during lunch breaks and we would end up making connections and exchanging LinkedIn information. I will reach out to see how they are doing, and I’ll keep an eye out for their research.”
Andrew found inspiration in this year’s ASEE National Conference and told us, “A lot of times, as a graduate student, you are focused on your own research, and you might miss the bigger picture. Going to conferences always opens my eyes to what other people are working on and it allows me to concretely place my research. I would definitely recommend this conference (and others) to students.”
Other highlights that Andrew shared from being able to attend the conference was his appreciation of the location. “The conference was set in Baltimore inner Habor, and it was close to the water and the area was just beautiful. We also had dinner with all the folks from UGA on the second day of the conference organized by Dr. Morelock, and that was really nice.”
When asked about his plans after graduation, “…regarding my future career, I am interested in entrepreneurship and academia, and the ASEE conference is an amalgamation of industry and education. As such, I was able to observe the different players in engineering education spaces and the kinds of tools that were available. This will be useful once I graduate and start working…
“…I am expecting to graduate in Spring 2024. I loved the teaching experience with the DEEF program, so I plan on getting into academia. In addition, I like solving problems and building things and I have always wanted to get involved in entrepreneurship. So, I can see myself splitting my time between academia and entrepreneurship.”
Congratulations Andrew! We look forward to seeing what future projects you develop using VR in education.