BEDFORD — The elevator door opens and a plank, several stories up, hangs over a bustling city below. Shuffling out onto the plank, the heart rate speeds up. Then, slowly scooting back into the elevator, the heart rate drops as the participant returns to safety.
It’s virtual reality.
And although it’s not reality, the participant can easily be immersed in a world that doesn’t seem so unrealistic.
The Bedford Public Library has invested in virtual reality, and thanks to an $8,000 grant from Hoosier Uplands, it will be able to add more laptops and headsets to its cache as it brings the technology to Bedford in early 2018.
“This provides a really vivid, realistic experience,” said Mary Hall, assistant library director.
Ultimately, the goal is to use the virtual reality platform to get students and their families excited about careers.
“We’d like to encourage young people to think about other types of careers that, perhaps, they don’t know about. Careers that are available right here in Bedford,” said Susan Miller, library director. “We think of it as a virtual job shadow. We can start them at a young age and get them excited about the opportunities.”
Although virtual reality is typically used for entertainment purposes, the library also wants to use it to simulate job experiences that are available with local employers.
“We have employers here begging for a skilled workforce. We have kids who are leaving this community because they don’t know a skilled workforce is needed here,” Miller said. “We need to get these two together.”
“They don’t know what careers are available ... and we believe we can expose them to what’s out there, using virtual reality,” Hall added.
Career exploration is nothing new to the library.
“We feel like we are the perfect educational vehicle for career exploration,” Miller said. “We are open seven days a week with a trained staff. Parents can come in here, with their children, and do all of this at no charge. It’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education on a very local level.”
For example, Nathan Watson, the library’s community learning coordinator, recently took drones to Bedford Middle School, where he showed students how to code and fly the machines. With the demonstration completed, he was able to tell the students that careers involving the same type of technology used to fly drones are available locally.
“It brings it home to the students,” Miller said. “It allows them to think, ‘Oh — this is cool. Oh — this is a job.’ If they can see it’s fun and it can lead you to a career, then it’s a win-win all the way around.”
“We would love to see the kids get excited enough that they do the course work to get where they need to go,” Hall said. “Right now, they’re not seeing a reason why learning is important. We’re hoping this technology, while simulating careers, provides the excitement and incentive to learn.”
The $8,000 grant is a part of Hoosier Uplands’ Community Development and Improvement Program, which started in 2012 and is used to improve communities in Lawrence, Orange, Martin, Washington and Crawford counties.
According to Hoosier Uplands Chief Executive Officer David Miller, “This virtual reality project builds perfectly on the grant that we recently awarded to the North Lawrence Career Center. Engaging students in virtual reality learning will provide real-world current experiences. Hoosier Uplands supports projects that engage students with STEM learning.”
In May, Hoosier Uplands awarded a $40,000 grant to the career center that enabled it to add a state-ofthe-art computer numeric controlled milling machine to the shop. This month, an additional $30,000 grant from Hoosier Uplands to the career center will purchase equipment to help students master additional career skills.