As 2020 continues to be a year of great change, we spoke to Professor Erin Reilly, the director of the Texas Immersive Program and how it is innovating the learning experience in the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations.
- What is the goal of the Texas Immersive Program and how does it fit in with the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations?
Our goal with Texas Immersive is to help develop students’ core competencies in 4 key areas: Audience, Story, Technology, and Innovation. The reason why we're focused on this is because there's a huge shift in our industry where we're exploring how advertising is changing. Today, advertising needs to be experiential and audiences want to be immersived in experiences.
I started the Texas Immersive sequence specifically to help students better understand the future of not only advertising and PR, but really immersive is an interdisciplinary field that has a combination of a lot of sub industries that make up immersive entertainment. A portion of every accepted cohort of students is made up of students from other colleges and majors, bringing together writers, designers, and developers working to understand how to engage audiences in unique ways be creating immersive experiences. Immersive experiences that focus on the relationship between the audience and the story.
For the story, it’s about students understanding spatial concepts and reasoning and knowing what is the right emerging technology to best support the story being told. In immersive, it’s important to think about the blending of physical and digital worlds, to push past 2D and towards living in 3D environments, to think about physical space and how 3D objects can be used effectively in this new reality, to explore these new worlds and how to situate the audience in it while still giving them agency to participate in the brand in an unique way.
- What kinds of students are you looking for in the Immersive sequence?
I really look for students who think differently. I can teach you the hard and soft skills of being an innovator but you need to at least be curious and to question the world differently and not take everything at face value; to perhaps put your own slant on it. I think of the Texas Immersive students as explorers. Are they willing to tinker? To think and doand to step out of their shell and work with disciplines that maybe they are not familiar with. To be comfortable with the blank page and turn it into something else.
- What is the most memorable student project that you came across with?
There are many good projects that come to mind but I have to talk about The UT admissions project, which will become a permanent installation of the U. T. admissions Welcome Center experience for prospective students. I loved it because I had about 25 students all working on the project together kick off the idea. By breaking up into different teams -- from the writing team, build team, multimedia team, to a creative director and producer -- they all worked on the same project much like working across different departments in an agency.
At the end of the semester we presented it at the UT welcome center and convinced them to continue going forward and make this a permanent experience for UT. 2 semesters later, we are in final production where some of the original students are shadowing professionals. That's pretty exciting especially for the students who can add this project to their portfolio website and resume and have a good grasp of what it’s like to work on a real client project before beginning their own career.
- For non communications majors and students studying other fields, is there a place for them in Texas Immersive?
Yes. I have students from a variety of schools. So far, I’ve had advertising and PR students and RTF majors. Outside of Moody, I’ve had Education, Psychology, Arts Entertainment Technology, and Computer Science majors. I've also had Integrated Media MFA students from the College of Fine Arts as Texas Immersive welcomes both undergraduate and graduate students.
It feels healthy to be interdisciplinary. I want this (TXI) to be an interdisciplinary major one day, and a lot of these students are not just taking the sequence …they are getting involved in extra-curricular opportunties associated with Texas Immersive. I oversee innovation and entrepreneurship for Moody and as part of that, many of the client projects are being extended to the Imagine Lab, the experience lab for faculty and students to explore and research the future of media. So, the students have this home base where they tinker and share their knowledge with each other, host events throughout the year and promote the future and what Moody is offering in this space via our newsletter and social media strategy. Cumulatively, this gets Texas Immersive students involved in building innovation here at Moody College of Communication.
- After working on the immersive program for a year right now, how do you feel about the program and what is your biggest take away from the process?
I am loving it! I love that this program has launched – it pushes Stan Richards School into exploring what the future of an agency could look like and include new roles yet to be developed in our field. Talk about a major shift this Spring, within 2 weeks everyone moved home, and we all went online.
To a lot of people, that change was like not their normal, but Immersive we live in virtual, we live in this world, so the importance of our field exponentially grew. The whole idea of production going virtual is what we talk about, it’s in what we teach and it’s how you engage audiences that are social distancing. We can connect through digital means and this is something the students are thinking about. I feel like my students in Texas immersive are preparing for jobs that don't exist yet and they'll be able leaders to help design this new future.