Computer science majors augment historic exploration through virtual reality projects

Computer science department students Orrin Wilson ’20 and Just Hoang Anh ’21

At Gettysburg College, two computer science majors are reimagining how Gettysburg tourists experience Lincoln Cemetery, as well as Pennsylvania Hall on campus. Through the College’s Digital Technology Summer Fellows Program, Orrin Wilson ’20 and Just Hoang Anh ’21 developed cutting-edge virtual reality (VR) tours that empower inquiring minds to explore the historic sites from the comfort of their own homes.

Within Gettysburg’s Innovation Lab—a campus space designed for the exploration of bold, technological ideas—Wilson and Anh had access to leading software tools, such as Blender and Unity Pro, in addition to two College-owned DJI Mavic Pro drones.

computer science department students Orrin Wilson ’20 and Just Hoang Anh ’21

“I used Blender for texturing and creating the details in the models. Unity Pro was used to create things in the world and in the model, like lighting, wind, sound, and terrain,” Wilson said.

Wilson, a member of the Bullets track team and Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, focused his design efforts on the color, texture, and lighting of Gettysburg College’s iconic campus landmark, Pennsylvania Hall, which served as a field hospital for hundreds of Union and Confederate soldiers during the Battle of Gettysburg.

At Gettysburg College, students are encouraged to pursue academic interests with open minds and to be unafraid to follow their curiosity down unexpected paths. Originally a biology major, Wilson discovered a passion for computer science through his coursework.

“I had taken a computer science class in high school, so I thought I’d try it out again at Gettysburg,” he said. “Now it’s become a great part of my life and a potential future career.

computer science department students Orrin Wilson ’20 and Just Hoang Anh ’21

Anh dedicated his VR tour to Lincoln Cemetery, the burial site of Gettysburg’s African American citizens and veterans during the Civil War era.

Segregated even in death, more than 30 members of the U.S. Colored Troops were laid to rest on the plot, having been denied burial in Soldiers’ National Cemetery—the location of President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address 155 years ago.

“With this project, I sought to bring back the importance of the past and its forgotten history, while utilizing technology of the future,” said Anh, an international student from Vietnam, and president of the Vietnamese Student Association on campus.

“There are so many international students like myself who are not able to feasibly make a trip to Gettysburg. This gives them the opportunity to see Lincoln Cemetery firsthand and feel what it is like to be here,” he said.

Anh’s tour consisted of two different models, enabling viewers to teleport back and forth from each. “I used tools such as ZBrush, which adds roughness to the tombstones, and Substance Painter to add texture and lightning to the tombstones,” said Ahn. “These tools add a realistic touch to the 3D models, which allows the users to immerse themselves in the virtual reality.”

computer science department students Orrin Wilson ’20 and Just Hoang Anh ’21

Both students emphasized the guidance and encouragement they received throughout the Fellowship, most notably from their mentor Eric Remy, director of educational technology. Remy helped the students broaden their original project ideas, gain an understanding of the Innovation Lab’s VR tools, and prepare for a public presentation to campus community members.

“Even if you are not a computer science major, Gettysburg gives you a great opportunity to find your passion and revolutionize,” said Wilson. “In our Innovation Lab, you can create any project. It has been a very rewarding experience.”