The overarching goal of URU’s Changing the Face of STEM (CFS) initiative is to strengthen STEM identification among youth who have been historically underrepresented in STEM and excluded from fully participating in the STEM world. As part of this initiative, URU The Right to Be, Inc. has piloted the use of virtual reality (VR) as a tool to target the STEM identification gap experienced by many young people who rarely or never see STEM role models that look like them. URU created the Virtual Reality Learning Experience (VRLE) “You Can’t Be What You Can’t See” using the Oculus Go platform. In this VRLE, young people enter an immersive, interactive simulated environment in which they are able play the role of doctor or IV technician. In presenting students with the novel opportunity to immersively visualize themselves as medical professionals, “You Can’t Be What You Can’t See” fosters growth and expansion in young people’s implicit perceptions of their own potential and capabilities, and so helps to close the identification gap that affects youth of genders, races, and ethnicities that have historically been—and continue to be—underrepresented in STEM education and careers.
Through our pilot programs and events utilizing the “You Can’t Be What You Can’t See” VRLE, we have found VR to be a promising tool for introducing young people to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and assisting youth in successfully entering the STEM “pipeline.” Our pilot VRLE is particularly effective in addressing identification gaps in young people with regard to STEM careers as it puts them in an agential rather than passive role. Because of the interactive and immersive capabilities offered by VR, students are not just seeing someone “like them” in the relevant setting; they are occupying and performing the role themselves. Importantly, utilizing Virtual Reality Learning Experiences is a creative, exciting, and enjoyable way to engage young people and encourage them to actively participate in STEM projects, studies, and activities.
Technology continues to become more sophisticated, accessible, and impactful on human behavior. The influence of technology is particularly strong among youth for whom the eagerness to adapt the latest technologies is boundless. As the world experiences a paradigm shift in the way people communicate, consume information, and learn, URU The Right to Be, Inc. believes VR is a promising tool for introducing young people to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), helping them identify with STEM professions, and inspiring and encouraging them to enter STEM pipelines.