CSU Students, Professors Create Virtual World for First-Year Students

COLUMBUS, Ga. – Incoming Columbus State University students will have the opportunity to experience the CSU campus through Minecraft. The virtual campus was created by a team of CSU computer science students and faculty. Activities in the virtual world will be offered as part of P.R.O.W.L., an annual extended orientation that provides incoming students a preview into cougar nation.

Typically held as a four-day, three-night in-person event, P.R.O.W.L. allows new students to make lifelong friends through leadership development opportunities and interactive games. The camp usually includes activities such as bonfires and mud courses, but social distancing guidelines and the evolving nature of COVID-19 created obstacles in the planning of the event for this year. Fortunately, at CSU, challenges spark creativity. CSU President Chris Markwood asked Dr. Mariko Izumi, CSU’s Director of Center for Experiential Learning and Career Design (former Office of Quality Enhancement Plan), to build a team to create a virtual environment for the event.

“At Columbus State University, we view obstacles as an opportunity for growth,” said President Markwood. “I knew our innovative students, faculty, and staff could rise to the challenge of creating an exciting virtual adventure for our incoming students.”

Izumi recruited the help of CSU computer science professors and students, as well as staff from the University Information and Technology Services (UITS), to take on the monumental task of building and setting up hosting for both CSU campuses in less than two months. After much research on various video games and platforms, Izumi settled on Minecraft, a popular sandbox video game that allows users to build virtual worlds and adventures.

“I am incredibly proud of our team of students, faculty, and staff, who made this world possible,” said Izumi. “They spent countless hours of hard work, and the end result is absolutely incredible.”

Creating a virtual CSU from scratch was not an easy feat. With CSU’s main campus having many hills, the team had to consult CSU’s GIS coordinator and obtain various types of maps from multiple sources, including ones from the City of Columbus. The team used engineering maths for scaling the campus to size. Then the team of CSU computer science students, volunteers from the Campus Nerds student organization, and P.R.O.W.L. leaders created the designs. Some of the faculty allowed their children to help create the buildings. The team used maps and pictures to replicate all of CSU’s unique characteristics, from the clock tower to the art mural on the exterior of Davidson. There is even a virtual CSU shuttle bus that will take students from the main campus to the RiverPark campus.

CSU faculty were also essential in the creation of the Minecraft world. A team of computer science faculty designed activities inside Minecraft, provided essential support to the student designers, and helped answer questions throughout every step of the process.

With the virtual world designed, the next hurdle became training CSU faculty about Minecraft. CSU’s PROWL is unique in that it brings new faculty to start their CSU journey with the first-year students. During any other year, faculty members join first-year students and participate in interactive challenges, leadership development, and active learning situations along with first-year students. However, this year, the faculty – many of whom were unfamiliar with Minecraft – had to also learn how to navigate the video game.

CSU’s Minecraft world and the activities for the P.R.O.W.L. are in the final stages of development, and P.R.O.W.L. is scheduled for Aug. 1 - 3. Admitted students may register by emailing prowl@columbusstate.edu by July 24.

Those interested in getting a glimpse at CSU’s virtual world are invited to a Zoom tour, scheduled for July 24 at noon. During the tour, student designers will show off their creation and describe the process of creating the world. To register for the Zoom tour, visit https://forms.gle/zpxJTBQfeJwU2cqt8.

Although CSU’s Camp P.R.O.W.L. will be held virtually, CSU’s fall semester will return to the usual mix of instructional options including on campus classroom, online, and hybrid/extended classroom courses with physical distancing policies in place. For more information on CSU’s return-to-campus, visit https://www.columbusstate.edu/return-to-campus/.

Below is a list of individuals who helped with the creation of CSU’s Minecraft world.

Minecraft Team Director
Dr. Mariko Izumi, Director of Center for Experiential Learning and Career Design

Minecraft Builder Team
Adam Davies, Computer Science major/ project leader
James (Joey) Ellerbee, Computer Science major/ communication leader
Taylor Woods, Computer Science major
Anthony Obando, Computer Science major
Justin Lesh, Computer Science; graduated in May 2020
Bryson Colbert, Kinesiology & Health Science Major/ PROWL leader

Minecraft Faculty Team
Ms. Hillary Fleenor, Director of the Academic Center for Tutoring & instructor in the School of Computer Science
Dr. Rania Hodhod, Associate Professor & Assistant Chair of the School of Computer Science
Dr. Rodrigo Obando, Associate Professor in the School of Computer Science
Dr. Lydia Ray, Associate Professor in the School of Computer Science
Mr. Ehab Bedir, Cyber Range Administrator in the School of Computer Science

UITS Team
Barbara Psalmond, Project Management Officer
David Williams, Manager, IT Support Services
Brandon Lindley, Sr. Manager, IT Support Services
Vincent Gammage, Interim Senior Manager, Infrastructure & Database Services
Robert Gordy, Manager, Enterprise Applications

Plant Operations
Thomas Rice, GIS Coordinator

PROWL Team
Dr. Mark McCarthy, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education & Assistant Director of Exp. Learning & Career Design
Amy Edge, Administrative Coordinator
Derrick Warnockm, Graduate Student, Teacher Education
Jordan Garrett, Camp consultant

Volunteers
Shanice Smith, Biology major
Chase Graham, Theatre major
Tyler Wenndt, Computer Science major
Sam Postell, Computer Science major
Caroline Murphy, Biology major
Alex Walston, Computer Science major
Gina Bedir, Art major
Sampan Bhattacharyya
Fabian Weidler