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Google contest motivates students to 'rebuild' WMU

Sept. 12, 2007

KALAMAZOO--Students are putting Western Michigan University on the map--literally.

A group of seven WMU students answered an invitation by the Internet giant Google to participate in its Build Your Campus in 3-D Competition. The teams' submission placed among the top 30 out of some 350 entries from across the United States and Canada and will be incorporated on Google Earth, the company's popular geographic information feature.

The fruits of the students' work will be showcased in a presentation to WMU Board of Trustees at its 10:45 a.m. meeting Friday, Sept. 14, in Room 157 of the Bernhard Center. The presentation will feature many of the 3-D campus buildings that the team has created. To view these buildings, visit sketchup.google.com/3dwarehouse and type WMU in the search box.

"Our campus will come alive at the board meeting," says Jonathan Rumohr, a senior in mechanical engineering from Ishpeming, Mich., who was the impetus behind WMU entering the contest. "I read about the competition on a whim and it's snowballed into a major campus initiative involving other students and people in the physical plant, enrollment management and information technology."

In addition to Rumohr, the student team is composed of two mechanical engineering students Gregory Adamczyk, a senior from Marlette, Mich., and Neal Sheldon, a junior from Blissfield Mich., and four geography students, Cari Delong, a graduate student from White Hall, Mich., Gus Martinka, a senior from Vassar, Mich.; James Eichstaedt, a graduate student from Kalamazoo; and Joshua Groeneveld, a junior from Muskegon, Mich.

Serving as team advisors are three members of the physical plant staff, a Department of Geography faculty member, and a campus architecture and design staff member.

Student team members have put more than 1,200 hours of their time into the Google project. They began by taking 150 photographs of every building from different angles and elevations.

Each set of building photos was imported into a CAD 3-D program and digitized, then layered over an aerial photo of the original structure.

Now that the arduous task of creating realistic digitized buildings has been completed, the students are assembling them into a digitized model of the University's campus for Google Earth, which integrates layers of satellite imagery, maps and 3-D buildings to create virtual representations of cities, schools and other places around the world.

"The potential spin-offs from this project are endless," says Michael VanPutten, Web developer for enrollment management. "One of the challenges we have in admissions is to develop really engaging media. Our Google Earth team has made it possible for us to show in new ways what makes our campus unique. Prospective students will be able to check us out at any time from any place around the globe."

Eventually, VanPutten says, the University can add narratives to its virtual campus tour and allow users to explore all of WMU's amenities by zooming around the digital simulation and interacting with lifelike elements.

"The Google project is a prime example of student success and the innovation and creativity that takes place here," he adds. "Our students took the initiative, and people all across the University are contributing their expertise."

Although about a year off, the students are already laying the groundwork integrating their building models into an interactive game that will introduce students to campus in an entertaining as well as informative way.

Numerous other practical applications of the students' handiwork also are coming to the forefront. For instance, WMU's physical plant now has precise models of each campus building, right down to their exact location and geometry. This information will be especially useful in making building location and utility infrastructure decisions.

Other potential adaptations include producing specialized "maps" that interactively transport people to the particular building they want to reach. A wheelchair-bound person, for example, could be directed to a dedicated handicapped parking space in front of a specific building, then shown which accessible sidewalk and entry door leads to that building's elevator.

"It's very rewarding to see what we've done expand and grow," Rumohr says. "After I graduate, I'll be able to look back and say, 'I had a hand in this.'"

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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