Hajim Spotlights

Nicole Naselaris

Class year: 2019
Major: Optical engineering
Challenge: Enhance Virtual Reality
(Click here to see the poster about her GCS experience that she presented at the Undergraduate Research Expo.)

How did you hear about the Grand Challenges Program?

I went to one of the introductory informational meetings last year when I was a junior, and I thought it was really cool, but then I got busy with other things for the next year. I was actually working on the competencies on my own because they were all things that I cared about, so when I came back to the program in my last semester, I was able to draw everything together.

Why did you decide to apply for the Grand Challenges program?

It’s easy to look at my research as very isolated from what’s going on around me, because Zernike terms and freeform surfaces aren’t things that directly impact most people. However, this research can impact several fields, and that’s not something I really stopped and thought about until I joined this program and had to synthesize all the things I had been working on into one paper summarizing my experiences across all the competencies.

Which of the five “competencies” (research, interdisciplinary, entrepreneurship/innovation, global, service) did you most enjoy completing? Why?

My favorite was research.  Virtual reality can be hard to interact with directly, because the equipment is very expensive and it’s not accessible to the general public. However, through my research with Professor Jannick Rolland, I got to work with a lot of different types of head worn displays and other equipment.

Do you think you will want to continue work in the field of your “challenge” after graduation? How?

I am very interested in virtual reality, and I would like to come back to it. Next year, I will be in Spain for a year teaching English under a Fulbright Fellowship, but when I come back I am considering either pursuing a graduate degree in optics or going to work in industry on the West Coast.

How did being at the University of Rochester help you to complete this program?

The opportunity to work with Professor Rolland, who is a leading expert in freeform optics and its applications in virtual reality, is not something I would have had an opportunity to do at other institutions.

For you, what is the value of the Grand Challenges program?

Although I was already working on all of these competencies, the program helped me to think about them all together and to think about the interdisciplinary effects of engineering. It’s really easy for people in STEM and engineering to isolate themselves and think of themselves as separate from other disciplines, but realistically that is rarely the case and this program highlights that fact across several different grand challenges.