Eversource Energy grant will upgrade USJ’s innovative Augmented Reality Sandbox 

From left to right, Mark Massaro, Eversource Energy’s Community Relations & Economic Development Specialist gets a first-hand look at USJ’s AR Sandbox, along with Dr. Irene Reed, Ph.D., Chair and Professor in the Department of Biology, Associate Biology Professor Kirsten Martin, and Provost Michelle Kalis

The University of Saint Joseph (USJ) has been awarded a grant from Eversource Energy to purchase new software for the university’s Augmented Reality (AR) Sandbox.  

The AR Sandbox, an innovative and tactile technology that projects 3-D images to help understand mapping, topography, watersheds, natural hazards, and environmental changes has been used by USJ biology faculty in numerous courses and is expected to be a useful tool within USJ’s new Environmental Science major, to be launched in the fall of 2023. 

On May 10, Mark Massaro, Eversource Energy’s Community Relations & Economic Development Specialist, visited the USJ campus to see the AR Sandbox in action and to learn about its uses for teaching. He met with Dr. Irene Reed, Ph.D., Chair and Professor in the Department of Biology, Associate Biology Professor Kirsten Martin, Provost Michelle Kalis, Vice President of Institutional Advancement Maggie Pinney, and Director of Development, Grants and Sponsored Programs Laura Martineau. 

“We are very grateful to Eversource for awarding us this grant,” said Professor Martin. “The funds will allow us to increase the capabilities of an already amazing piece of technology. Since the USJ AR Sandbox has been operational, it has already garnered a lot of attention, interest, and excitement from students, faculty, and the general public.” 

The Eversource Energy grant will provide new, more user-friendly Windows-based software; and the Paradise Island program, which projects images of elevation-specific plants, as well as terrestrial and marine organisms, on the Sandbox’s surface. As the landscape is altered, the biological images shift to reflect the lifeforms and growth patterns for the new elevation.  

Since the AR Sandbox’s arrival in 2022, USJ biology professors have incorporated it into Earth Science and Aquatic Science courses as a teaching and research tool. Both new add-ons will expand the usefulness of the AR Sandbox for classroom work and student research projects. The AR Sandbox is also expected to be used by faculty at the Gengras Center and the School for Young Children to incorporate into their curriculum, as well as for outreach activities and programs for the USJ and greater Hartford communities. 

That outreach has already begun.  

On May 17, 70 students from Somers, Enfield and East Hartford High Schools arrived on campus for the first ever Environmental Science Day at USJ. The students not only got a chance to experience the AR Sandbox first-hand, but also learned about USJ and the new Environmental Science degree. 

“You cannot have a much more ‘hands-on’ educational experience than when interacting with the AR Sandbox,” said Professor Martin. “The AR Sandbox, enables learners of all ages to directly engage with the landscape, immediately see how their actions impact the landscape, and learn about complex concepts all while having fun.