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Studio X logo a year of experimenting

Annual Report 2022


As the hub for extended reality (XR) at the University of Rochester, Studio X fosters a community of cross-disciplinary collaboration, exploration, and peer-to-peer learning that lowers barriers to entry, inspires experimentation, and drives innovative research and teaching in immersive technologies.

Guiding Principles


We foster community through events and partnerships to inspire and drive innovative teaching and research with XR.


We empower students by making them collaborators and researchers who help staff our space and develop and run our programming.


We value collaboration across the humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields because XR requires cross-disciplinary expertise.


We believe in continual learning and encourage everyone to experiment without agenda or fear of failure.


We extend access to technology, expertise, space, and programming by lowering barriers to entry.


Virtual Reality (VR) uses advanced display and immersive audio technologies to create an interactive, 3D environment. Think of experiencing a roller coaster without actually being on one or walking through the great pyramids of Egypt from the comfort of your living room.

Augmented Reality (AR) uses technology to overlay digital content, such as video and 3D models onto the physical world to provide information and embellish our experiences. Imagine using AR to help you assemble a piece of furniture or see if a table would fit in your dining room.

Extended Reality (XR) is an umbrella term, which encapsulate AR, VR, and everything in between.

Through Studio X’s glass storefront we see the Salon space. Students and faculty gather in small groups, some wear VR headsets.
Emily Sherwood
Director of Digital Scholarship & Studio X

How did we get here?

When I started working on Studio X in early 2019, it was an idea with a roadmap. That idea was shaped by community needs gathered through interviews, design activities, and extensive work done by the original steering committee led by Lauren DiMonte, now associate dean of Learning, Research, and Digital Strategies. What we learned boiled down to access to:

  • Space that feels welcoming to all
  • Expertise that lowers barriers to entry
  • Technology that stays current
  • Community that fosters collaboration

Today, the requests we receive from our community still echo the feedback from our original user research. But what does success look like? We asked stakeholders what they want to see, and they said:

  • New users in the space and events that would make all feel welcome.
  • Faculty incorporating extended reality in their teaching and research.
  • Studio X having a big impact on our students, faculty, and the broader community.

Our mission statement was created to achieve these goals, and we hope you see them reflected in this report.

I do need to point out that as much success as we’ve had, the past year wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Supply chain issues delayed our technology. And like many units across the University, we were short-staffed and had trouble filling positions and finding people with the skills we needed. Although we have assembled a team of dedicated and skilled students, we see our team as a work-in-progress. Case in point: we still don’t have the staff to fully meet faculty needs. Finally, as is true with all new spaces, we discovered physical and technical limitations, which sometimes forced us to rethink our strategies for programming and events.

We’re proud of what we have accomplished in our soft-launch year, and we look forward to continuing to build the program, space, and community at Studio X.

Emily's signature

Emily Sherwood


first-time XR users

Students, faculty, and staff from across the University took advantage of our technology lending library.


equipment bookings











led by students

Three Studio X undergraduate XR Specialists help students try out the Meta Quest VR headset.
Emily Sherwood discusses her favorite part of Studio X.

Karp Library Fellows

You will find no finer example of student leadership and engagement than the accomplishments of our Karp Library Fellows. Named in recognition of a major gift commitment from University Trustee Carol Karp ʼ74, Pʼ11 and Victor Glushko P’11, the Karp Library Fellows Program aims to prepare students for their future careers through work in and contributions to specialized library spaces. While collaborating with library staff, Karp Library Fellows share their expertise, provide training to their peers, and enhance the libraries. Over the course of last year, three fellows helped us get up and running in ways that include leading workshops, teaching classes, mentoring our XR specialists, conducting research, and developing outreach strategies.

Nefle Nesli Oruç ’23 (T5)
Public Programs Coordinator
  • Take 5 Scholar
  • Summer 2022 Lyft Data Privacy Analyst Intern
  • Verizon Museum Initiative Project Lead
Muhammed El-Sayed ’23 (e5)
XR Developer
Ayiana Crabtree ’22
XR Researcher

Peer-to-Peer Learning

Studio X Karp Library Fellows and XR specialists led a wide-variety of hands-on, skill-building workshops and events. All learning levels were welcome to participate. No prior experience was necessary.

Students gather in the Learning Hub for a workshop led by Muhammed El-Sayed who reminds them that we’re all learners.
Create Your Own VR Flappy Bird Game with Muhammed El-Sayed ’23 (e5)

Flappy Bird is an addictive side-scrolling game in which you keep a bird flapping its wing to avoid obstacles. Using Unity, a real-time creation platform used to build games and XR experiences, we helped participants create their own version of the game. Unity has a steep learning curve and can be difficult to teach in a few hours. However, El-Sayed covered the basics in a fun and engaging way.

Watch the video
Around a table in the Learning Hub, three undergraduates work on their laptops to create 3D modeled pumpkins.
Blender 101: Spooky Season Edition with Nefle Nesli Oruç ’23 (T5)

Blender is a free, opensource, 3D modeling tool used to create animated films, visual effects, and art. Like Unity, it has a steep learning curve. Oruç developed a workshop that covered the basics, including geometry, materials, and rendering, by carving virtual pumpkins. At the end, students who participated submitted their final renders for voting on Instagram.

See the winner
Three students stand in front of the Collaboration Rooms. They pose with toy light sabers.
Beat Saber Competition with Ayiana Crabtree ’22

Studio X is located in the Carlson Science and Engineering Library, which to some, might make it seem like it only supports STEM disciplines. To disabuse the University community of that notion, Crabtree created a competition for Beat Saber, a popular VR-based rhythm and dancing game. The challenge brought in students, faculty, and staff from across campus.

Watch students playing
In the Salon, an XR Specialist in a VR headset plays a game while two other XR Specialists cheer him on.


Aurum, Latin for gold, is a collaboration between the Rossell Hope Robbins Library and Studio X in which we attempt to build a VR alchemical laboratory. The project highlights the University of Rochester Libraries’ diverse collections and reimagines how we might engage with them. We started with a manuscript in Robbins’ collection Alchemical Miscellany, a personal collection of 17th-century alchemical texts from Italy that are written in Latin. The text contains dozens of recipes, many of which involve the creation of the philosopher’s stone, a mythic alchemical substance that could turn ordinary metals into gold.

We started the brainstorming process for the VR experience through UX activities, research on the ethics of game design, and world building. At the same time, each of the student teams started tech tutorials in Blender (a 3D modeling tool) and Unity (a gaming engine) in preparation for bringing the project to life. Then, we worked on creating mood boards, sketches, and short stories. By the end of the semester, each student created a 3D model for the scene, which was turned into a small VR prototype by our project manager, Liam O’Leary ʼ23.

Liam O’Leary ’23 discusses Aurum, a collaboration between the Rossell Hope Robbins Library and Studio X.

& Research

We made solid progress toward our goal of integrating XR into courses across the curriculum.




faculty members


class visits



Kate Phillips ʼ15

Associate professor, Writing, Speaking & Argument Program

How do you reconcile conflicting input? What do you do when you’re sitting in a chair, but your brain is so convinced you’re on a rollercoaster that your heart starts racing?

These are questions Professor Phillips was thinking about in the summer of 2021 while designing a new course on the topic of “uncertainty.”

Phillips, who has a PhD in philosophy, was curious how the experience of XR—when you are fully immersed in a virtual world—changes your perception of reality and what you know to be true. At that point, she was new to virtual reality (VR), having recently tried a Meta Quest headset for the first time. So, she reached out to Studio X.

During the first week of the fall semester, only days after we received our certificate of occupancy for the space (and still waiting on much of our technology), Phillips’s class came to Studio X for an Intro to XR session with immersive technologies librarian Meaghan Moody. Her students returned the following week for additional experimentation.

That intro session was only the start of Phillips’ relationship with Studio X.

In January 2022, Phillips proposed a reading group to discuss Reality +: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy by leading philosopher of consciousness and mind David Chalmers. With support from the Humanities Center and River Campus Libraries, she purchased books and led sessions in Studio X. Faculty and staff members and undergraduate and graduate students from across the University and the Rochester Institute of Technology participated in the group. Based on Phillips’ interest in the book, we invited the author to present at Voices of XR, a Studio X speaker series that brings immersive technology scholars and professionals to Rochester, made possible by University Life Trustee Kathy McMorran Murray ʼ74 and National Science Foundation Research Traineeship Program and co-hosted by the Gwen M. Greene Center for Career Education. More than 50 people attended Chalmers’ talk.

Phillips continues to work with us each semester, introducing her students to different ways of thinking, learning, and experiencing.

Professor Phillips wears a VR headset and sits in profile on the edge a couch, controllers in her hands.

Noah Pines ’20

Graduate student, Optics

Pines’ introduction to Studio X occurred when it was still a concept. When he was still an undergraduate student, he participated in a charrette session, where he provided feedback on the space’s future design. After graduating, as a graduate student in the optics program, he participated in the interdisciplinary National Science Foundation-funded VR training program, in which he attended one of our workshops and started learning about our resources. Later, we ended up purchasing a hologram tablet that he requested for his research. It's also worth noting that Pines was the champion of our Inaugural Beat Saber competition.

Noah Pines ’20 discusses his Studio X journey.

Zhen Bai

Assistant professor, Computer Science

Professor Bai teaches an upper-level undergraduate and graduate course on AR/VR interaction design that gives students a fundamental understanding of XR technologies and the opportunity to use them to solve real-world problems. The course culminates in a working XR prototype created in small groups. Bai shared that before Studio X, her students had difficulty developing VR projects due to a lack of access to VR headsets. Her students also struggled with the steep learning curve of the software, and lower-level courses did not adequately prepare students for XR development. In the fall of 2021, Bai collaborated with us and brought her class in for several sessions:

  • Intro to XR workshop
  • Intro to Unity workshop
  • Intro to Unity & VR workshop
  • Paper and Mixed Materials Prototyping
  • Intro to 3D Sound with Professor Ming-Lun Lee
  • Final Project Showcase

Since working with her class last fall, Bai has collaborated with us in a variety of ways. She identified and hosted speakers for Voices of XR, gave a talk on XR design for human diversity for our pre-college program, and consulted with us on potential research projects with other faculty members. Additionally, Haochen Zeng ʼ22 (e5), an XR specialist, worked with her lab this summer on a research project involving the Microsoft HoloLens. We will continue to work with her class each fall semester.

Xiaofei Zhou discusses her experience with Studio X as a graduate student.
Top: In the Learning Hub, Professor Bai discusses her research with a group of high school students.
                        Bottom: In the Learning Hub, undergraduates with laptops watch Karp Library Fellow El-Sayed teach them Unity.
At the edge of the stage in Kodak Hall, three graduate students look on as Haochen Zeng works on his laptop.

Haochen Zeng ’23 (e5)

Undergraduate student, Computer Science

Zeng joined Studio X as one of our first XR Specialists in the fall of 2021. He is a computer science major studying in his fifth year through the e5 program through the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. For his e5 project, Zeng plans to build an immersive tour of the River Campus for international students who can’t visit in person. In the past year he has received a Discover Grant to work on two faculty research projects and helped with the XR Pre-College Program. In addition to his responsibilities as an XR specialist, he’s serving as a teaching assistant for Professor Zhen Bai’s AR/VR Interaction Design course.

Riham Alieldin

PhD candidate, Health Professions Education

Physician and faculty member at the Alexandria University of Egypt, Alieldin is pursuing a PhD in health professions education at the Warner School of Education. Her dissertation focuses on VR as an empathy training tool for medical students. Throughout her research and advocacy for immersive training for healthcare professionals, Alieldin has consulted with Studio X staff and borrowed equipment such as the Meta Quest 2 VR headsets and the Microsoft HoloLens. She also presented on her research during a Studio X Drop-In Friday, which is a weekly opportunity for the University community to enjoy XR through informal experiences, including talks, workshops, and demonstrations.

In the Salon, a graduate student wears a Hololens headset and points at her outstretched palm.
Top: A group of high school students gather to admire the work created by one of their classmates.
                        Bottom: A high school student wearing a VR headset shows his underwater VR scene to Liam O’Leary.

XR Pre-college Program

In the summer, Studio X hosted a dozen juniors and seniors from across the country for our inaugural XR Content Creation and World Building Program. Over the course of two weeks, for three hours each day, the Studio X team led students through the fundamentals of 3D modeling and game design with the goal of creating a mini VR game. The plan was ambitious for several reasons: students had minimal exposure to XR tools and technology, and they could not use their own computers to run the performance-heavy software reliably.

Led by undergraduate Liam O’Leary ’23, Studio X staff experimented, reorganized, and ran tests to prepare for the students’ arrival. O’Leary also built his own mini VR game as a sandbox project for students to engage and customize. In addition to the hands-on skill-building workshops, students also participated in a design-thinking exercise to brainstorm their game concepts, attended a talk on XR design for human diversity from Professor Zhen Bai, and took part in a group reading and discussion on ethics and inclusion for XR. At the end of the two weeks, students presented on their games, which featured custom assets and unique storytelling.

Responsive image Challenge time?


We collaborated with innovative, creative, and interdisciplinary colleagues across campus and beyond. Working with others allows us to expand our reach and impact.





School of Nursing

Kathryn Shapiro, instructor of Clinical Nursing at the University of Rochester’s School of Nursing reached out to Studio X for advice on applying for a grant that would enable the building XR content. We also consulted on the development of their new state-of-the-art expansion by sharing lessons we learned and technology recommendations. Since then, we have provided equipment for several classes and participated in a VR nursing simulation experience.

Seven people sit in chairs in a semi-circle. A person with a VR headset stands in the middle.

Frameless Labs at RIT

We have participated in the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Frameless Labs XR Symposium and journal for several years. We help review abstracts, serve as moderators for panels, and support marketing and engagement efforts. Through this relationship, we have forged strong partnerships with RIT faculty and students.

  • Recent graduate, Isabelle Andeson ʼ22 presented and demonstrated her VR musical experience during a Drop-In Friday.
  • Studio X hosted Been Set Free, a VR dance performance featuring an RIT dancer outfitted with a motion capture system.
  • Studio X provided VR equipment for a private screening of Compass, a VR film about the first child protection case in U.S. history.
Poster for the Frameless Symposium

National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT)

In 2019, University of Rochester was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to enable doctoral students to be trained across six disciplines in augmented and virtual reality. We support the program through hands-on, skill-building workshops, access to technology, and holding office hours that allow graduate students to receive help on their projects.

Outside of the staff space, a graduate student experiments with a Hololens headset for the first time.

Other Partners

  • Ain Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation
  • Barbara J. Burger iZone
  • Center for Education Abroad
  • Digital Media Studies
  • Gwen M. Greene Center for Career Education and Connections
  • Humanities Center
  • Office of Minority Student Affairs
  • Orientation & First Year Programs
  • National Science Foundation Research Traineeship on Augmented and Virtual Reality
  • Rossell Hope Robbins Library
  • Simon Business School
  • UHS Health Promotion Office
  • Undergraduate Admissions, Pre-College Program
  • Writing, Speaking, & Argument Program


A student is dabbing while wearing a VR headset.

Thank you

Our program and space would not be where they are today without the support of many people across the University community. First, thanks to our alumni and friends whose generosity enabled us to establish a solid foundation for Studio X. Special thanks go to University Trustee Evans Lam ʼ83, ʼ84S (MBA) for initiating an inspiring giving challenge and the Fred L. Emerson Foundation for a grant without which we would not have been able to realize our goals of building an inclusive, collaborative, and innovative space and program.

We also owe many thanks to multitudes right here at the University. In particular, we’re incredibly appreciative to Mary Ann Mavrinac, Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Emeritus Dean of the University Libraries, and Wendi Heinzelman, dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, for their vision, guidance, and staunch support. And we’re deeply grateful to our River Campus Libraries colleagues from Patron Services, Finance, and Building and Technology Services and our current dean, Kevin Garewal.

Finally, we have to thank our students, who have made Studio X a vibrant, welcoming, creative, innovative, and fun place to be. They are the heart of our community and why we do what we do.

Awards & Presentations

  • Emily Sherwood

    “Administering XR Programs,” WebXR Education Summit, WebXR Summit Series.

  • Ayiana Crabtree

    “Engaging Humanities & Humanistic Social Sciences Faculty, Staff, and Students Through XR,” for iLRN2022 (Immersive Learning Research Network).

  • Ayiana Crabtree

    2022 Dean’s Student Library Service Award

    Karp Library Fellow Ayiana Crabtree holds up her printed award certificate for the Dean’s Student Library Service Award.
  • Studio X

    Nominee, Campus Partner, Gwennie Award, Gwen M. Greene Center for Career Education and Connections, for partners who exemplify the center’s values and support career education efforts for students and alumni, University of Rochester.

  • Emily Sherwood

    “Imagine Studio X,” for the panel, “Pollinating Open Space: Libraries, Innovation Centers, and Other Spaces for Cross-Disciplinary Discovery,” organized in support of the classroom master planning initiative, Purdue University.

  • Studio X

    Fred L. Emerson Foundation grant to support capital costs and technology start-up for the space and programming.

  • Ayiana Crabtree, Muhammed El-Sayed, and Nefle Nesli Oruc

    “The Studio X Karp Library Fellows: Peer-to Peer XR Learning & Engagement,” Frameless Symposium, RIT.

  • Meaghan Moody and Emily Sherwood

    Practitioner Stream Award for Innovation in Higher Education, awarded to a presenter whose work is at the leading edge in the area of immersive learning and likely to change the field in higher education, iLRN (Immersive Learning Research Network).

    In a 3D modeled environment, avatars of Meaghan Mood and Emily Sherwood are dancing on a virtual beach.
  • Meaghan Moody and Emily Sherwood

    “Studio X: Experience, Explore, Experiment through XR at the University of Rochester,” for iLRN2021 (Immersive Learning Research Network).

  • Muhammed El-Sayed and Emily Sherwood

    “Dream University Challenge: Fostering Community through Virtual Spaces,” Beyond Zoom: Promise and Reality of XR, Dartmouth College and University of Pennsylvania.

  • Sebastian Jakymiw and Meaghan Moody

    “Studio X: Experience, Explore, Experiment through XR at the University of Rochester,” for iLRN2021 (Immersive Learning Research Network).

  • Sebastian Jakymiw, Meaghan Moody, Emily Sherwood, and Maurini Strub

    “Creating a Virtual Community for Virtual Reality: Challenges and Solutions for Program Building During a Pandemic,” for DLF (Digital Library Federation) Forum.







Our Team

Looking into the future

Even though we’re a relatively new space and community, this report is proof that we have a strong sense of who we are and what we can accomplish. Although it says little about our potential. We know we can do more. We’re eager to do more.

In the short-term, we have a team of incredibly talented, creative, and passionate people who will keep us moving in the right direction. We will also continue to form new relationships and partnerships that will inform our decision-making and increase our capacity and ability to help.

We’re saying it’s only going to get better. But we’re also saying join our community. Let’s build something. Let’s solve problems. Let’s make big ideas a reality—in any dimension.