How the Boys & Girls Club is using virtual reality to help students explore careers

How the Boys & Girls Club is using virtual reality to help students explore careers

Alexis Fernung was ready to taxi the plane from the runway to the hangar. Following the signalman’s directions and staying in line on the runway, she does her best to move the plane.

“I get it,” she said as the plane began to move.

A few minutes earlier, Lillian Green was examining a robot arm used for industrial painting. Climbing a ladder, she searched for leaks and inspected the machine.

“Don’t fall off the ladder!” teased Ben Waterman, the teen coordinator for the Boys & Girls Club of Tipton County.

“That’s not the real Ben, relax,” Lillian replied.

But it was real.

Alexis and Lillian are in sixth and fifth grade respectively. They weren’t on the job site, but rather in the music room of the Tipton Boys & Girls Club where, once a week, it turns into a “hands-on” job site using Oculus headsets.

The Indiana Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs has partnered with Transfr, a company that creates immersive virtual reality simulations for workforce development, training and education, to bring helmets oculus loaded with VR simulations to help students explore potential careers at clubs across the state.

Tipton, about an hour north of Indianapolis, was one of 10 clubs to receive the helmets this summer and the program recently expanded to include nearly two dozen additional clubs.

“It opened up some of those kinds of conversations,” Waterman said of the impact virtual reality has had on her interviews with students about careers. “Children will gravitate toward careers they see in their lives like teaching, nursing, or youth pastor.”

The list of jobs they have never seen means nothing to them, but with this you can tell them that the skill they learned in the simulation is important for one or more jobs, he said. declared.

“It’s a much more concrete way to talk about it,” Waterman said.

Multiple “hands-on” career experiences in one place

Students come to the Boys & Girls Club looking for something different after the school day, said Lana Taylor, executive director of the Indiana Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs.

“They don’t want to do math and read, they want to do something fun and interesting,” she said. And the VR experience, she said, “is fun and engaging.”

It’s also part of a shift from career exploration to workforce development, Taylor said. It’s the difference between hearing about a career and trying it. Plus, she says, it’s another way to supplement what students are learning about career choices at school and at home.

Hearing adults talk about a career isn’t always the best way to get students to understand it, she says.

So the Boys & Girls Club wanted to provide more hands-on experiences. One way was for students to work as junior staff in clubs and learn what it was like to be a staff member. But not every student wants to work at a boys and girls club, Taylor said.

So the club started more corporate partnerships, like Old Navy, and the one with Transfr is perfect, Taylor said. It allows students to explore multiple industries without leaving the Boys and Girls Club.

The simulations pave the way from classroom to career and “help young people understand the full range of options available to them in today’s rapidly changing economy and workplace,” said Bharani Rajakumar, founder and CEO of Transfr, said in a statement.

After the virtual reality experience, students know if a career is “that’s what we thought it was” or “that’s not what I wanted to do,” Taylor added.

Students try several careers and come up with new ideas

Back in Tipton, the Boys & Girls Club’s music and art rooms turn into construction sites on Wednesdays.

Students in grades five and up can use the helmet programs, which include an option for students to level up and develop skills in a specific area.

For fifth and sixth graders, the ideas of going to college and having a career can seem pretty abstract, Waterman said. But he says he knows how important it is to try different things.

Before coming to the Boys & Girls Club, Waterman worked in student life at Grand Canyon University, where he said he saw students come to college with a major in mind, start taking classes and live on campus, then change majors.

He tells the students he works with to be prepared to change their minds once they learn something new.

And that’s exactly what Transfr’s simulations offer: being a pilot, being an engineer, working in construction or tourism, trying everything.

As students explore, Transfr collects data on popular simulations and adds options like healthcare. Waterman said this information helps him think about which guest speakers and field trips students would want.

Both Alexis and Lillian said airplane experiments were their favorites, and Lillian also loved robots.

The girls said they wanted to become teachers one day. But they also expressed interest in engineering, math, and STEM — all topics covered in VR simulations.

“That’s what’s happening. Kids are finding other options that they hadn’t thought of before,” Taylor said. “The more they are exposed, the more they think about it.”

MJ Slaby is Chalkbeat Indiana’s bureau chief. Contact MJ at

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