Computer Science and Software Engineering Professor Receives NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development Award

Man in VR headset

Computer Science and Software Engineering Professor Jonathan Ventura wants to help others capture and share immersive virtual reality experiences from their cell phone. This April, he received a prominent $425,786 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support his efforts.

“While most digital media today consist of flat, two­-dimensional images and video, virtual reality technology allows us to share a complete three-­dimensional representation of our world,” said Ventura, a professor in the Computer Science and Software Engineering Department since 2018. “If the project succeeds, we will be able to capture and share immersive virtual reality experiences from our smartphones, just like we share images and video today, so that friends and family can truly experience ‘being there’ with us.”

Ventura said the development of widespread and consumer­-accessible technology for sharing high-­quality virtual reality experiences would create more impactful and lasting learning experiences and offer more opportunities to record meaningful experiences that might otherwise be lost.

“There are many fascinating technical challenges to solve before we can achieve this, such as how to make the capturing procedure fast and intuitive; how to handle dynamic scenes and varying capture conditions; and how to efficiently store and render scenes so that we can practically transfer and display them with consumer hardware,” Ventura said.

The grant will provide tuition for two graduate students each year over five years and offer hundreds of hours of support for both undergraduate and graduate students. Students will also contribute to state-of-the-art research in computer vision and machine learning, providing opportunities to present their work at academic and industry conferences, advancing Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing pedagogy.

“The Faculty Early Career Development Award is one of the most prestigious awards a junior faculty member can receive,” said Dean Amy S. Fleischer of the highly competitive award. “Jonathan’s work builds a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership, and he shares that foundation through education and research with his students. He truly enhances Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing emphasis.”

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a foundation-wide program that offers the NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.

Ventura plans to offer educational initiatives as part of the project, including working with Cal Poly’s Center for Engineering, Science & Mathematics Education (CESAME) to introduce California middle and high school students to virtual reality technology and encourage them to think about career paths in computer science. He is also planning an interdisciplinary collaboration with Andrew Fricker, social science professor, and Jenn Yost, biology professor, to develop educational virtual reality content for students on the biodiversity in California’s natural and urban spaces.