Hajim Spotlights

Kalila Shapiro

Class year: 2018
Major: Digital Media Studies (DMS)
Challenge: Enhance Virtual Reality

How did you hear about the Grand Challenges program?

I actually heard about the Grand Challenges program via Facebook. A friend of mine said they were interested in an informational event so it popped up on my newsfeed. The program looked interesting, so I clicked through.

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

I decided to apply for the program because of my love of virtual reality (VR). Since the release of Pokémon Go, I have been fascinated with augmented reality and virtual reality and their applications. However, they have a long way to go before they can really be used as a tool for social change like I believe they can. I wanted a chance to do my best and make them better.

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

I am a big supporter of STEAM—STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] plus art. In completing my interdisciplinary competency (which I fulfilled with my digital media studies capstone project), I got the chance to combine technology with film to create something meaningful. It was fun combining science, a discipline which isn’t usually considered imaginative, with creative pursuits.

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

I definitely want to continue working with virtual reality after graduation. I am planning on attending graduate school where I want to keep working with VR as a storytelling tool.

You were able to have most, if not all, of your competencies completed by this year before applying to be a Grand Challenges Scholar. How did being at the University of Rochester help you to complete this program?

Being at the University helped tremendously in completing all of the competencies. Receiving a Research and Innovation Grant allowed me to work in multiple labs at NYU last summer. Without encouragement from amazing faculty members, my capstone project never would have been completed. I have received great support here, both from the services like the Career Center and academic opportunities. These have inspired me to complete different projects and helped me finish my Grand Challenge.

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

The Grand Challenges program gives undergraduates the chance to take a deep dive into a topic they find interesting and feel like they can make a difference in. It opens opportunities to pursue different projects and encourages hands-on learning. Ultimately, I think it’s a more fun way to study and find solutions.