Alabama, Georgia and Florida students to get real (and virtual) look at careers at Southeast Worlds of Work

Alabama, Georgia and Florida students to get real (and virtual) look at careers at Southeast Worlds of Work
Crew members from PushCrankPress and Alabama Power prepare to send a 360-degree virtual reality camera up in an Alabama Power bucket truck to give students a better idea of what it's like to be a lineman on the job. (Linda Brannon/Alabama NewsCenter)

An exciting new dimension awaits eighth-graders set to converge on the National Peanut Festival Fairgrounds Feb. 20-21.

About 5,000 students from Alabama, Georgia and Florida are scheduled to attend the fourth annual Southeast Worlds of Work Career Experience, formerly Wiregrass WORKS. The career experience will provide fun, educational and hands-on experiences designed to guide students as they travel the career-choice path. This year, students will be able to experience three careers in virtual reality.

Southeast WOW general chairman Ryan Richards was searching for something fresh and different to enhance students’ experiences when he came across a Google Cardboard demonstration. Google Cardboard is a simple, inexpensive device that gives the user a virtual reality experience. He brought the idea to Southeast Alabama Works, one of seven regional workforce councils in Alabama, and the idea took hold.

The group purchased 200 Google Cardboard viewers for career counselors who attend the WOW event. Next, WOW partnered with Dothan agency PushCrankPress to produce videos that highlight local industries and careers.

The group chose three industries: Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (ACOM) of Dothan; American Buildings of Eufaula; and Alabama Power. PushCrankPress personnel worked with all three businesses to capture on video what a career with each might be like.

They did not use an ordinary video camera, however. Instead they used a six-lens, 3D camera that produces 360-degree videos. The camera can shoot straight up and straight down while simultaneously filming images from all six cameras and stitching them together in a seamless video. The result is a video that, when viewed through a Google Cardboard, becomes a virtual reality experience.

“When talking with Alabama Power, we knew we wanted students to see what a lineman experiences on a day-to-day basis,” said Richards. “They worked with us and we were able to actually put the camera into the bucket of a bucket truck. The camera’s bucket truck was one of three working on this job. When you see the video, it’s like you are the third lineman working at the top of the pole. It was awesome.”

David Senn, senior web developer at PushCrankPress, was cameraman for the job. “This particular video-shoot presented unique challenges,” Senn said. “We’ve never put a camera in a bucket truck before, so there were some unknowns we had to figure out.”

Senn and his team worked with Alabama Power line crew personnel to determine how to position the camera in the bucket while keeping everything steady and paying attention to details for safety.

“We’ve never put a camera 30 feet up in a bucket truck,” Senn said with a smile. “It’s not like setting a tripod up in the middle of a room. This was a first.

“The whole experience was a lot fun,” he said. “We learned more about the capacity of our equipment on this shoot. We pushed it outside what it was designed for and it performed well. The result is certainly an immersive experience.”

Senn said the other videos are equally realistic. “At ACOM we shot from a command center that controls three hospital room simulators. The simulators have human-functioning mannequins that are controlled by instructors from the command center. Students interact with the mannequins and learn diagnostic techniques. This video will provide the virtual reality experience of studying osteopathic medicine.

“At American Building we set up on the assembly line with the welder,” Senn continued. “We got as close to him as safely possible to give the students a genuine taste of welding and the industry.”

Richards hopes to carry this project forward. “Our hope is to create an entire library of virtual videos involving the other six regional workforce councils in the state,” he said. “It would be great if each council created videos on a regular basis highlighting what their regions have to offer our upcoming workforce. We could create an online library students could go to and explore a wide variety of careers with a virtual reality experience. … Wouldn’t that be awesome?”

Students attending the upcoming Southeast Worlds of Work Career Experience in Dothan will represent Barbour, Butler, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Pike counties in Alabama; Early, Miller and Seminole counties in Georgia; and Jackson, Holmes and Washington counties in Florida.

More than 80 regional businesses and industries will be showcasing their products and engaging with students. This experience is designed to help the students become familiar with a broad overview of high-demand, high-wage career opportunities available in the region. It is also designed to create awareness about exciting career options among students and educators that address the current workforce needs in the region.

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