Meet Marie Vans, new associate professor of systems engineering

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Marie Vans headshot
Marie Vans, associate professor of systems engineering

Marie Vans joined the Department of Systems Engineering in August 2021 after more than 20 years as a research scientist for HP Labs. She earned both her master’s and Ph.D. in computer science at Colorado State University. Vans’ research area focuses on the use of AR/VR for education and training. 

Where do you call home?

Fort Collins is my current home. We have been here since February of 2009!  Before that, we lived in the Northern Israeli town of Shfa’amr and I worked in Haifa for HP Labs for almost 10 years. I lived in Fort Collins from 1990-1999 while I was going to CSU and working for HP Labs after that.

What are you looking forward to about being a faculty member in Systems Engineering?

I am hoping to develop SE courses that will be taught in collaborative 3D immersive environments. These courses will not require AR/VR headsets but will be enhanced for students who use them. I am also looking forward to helping other women who may be considering STEM careers to understand that this is a great field to be working in. 

What is your research area?

AR is a tool that allows us to overlay digital information onto real world scenes (think Pokémon Go). This is great for seeing behind walls or into a human body without destroying either one. VR is a tool that allows us to experience completely digitally generated worlds (think Ready Player One.)

I want to research how best to create experiences that help people learn material that is difficult to understand in two dimensions (for example, reading a book or watching a video) and to have experiences that would otherwise be too expensive or dangerous (walking into a burning building or walking on the moon.)

In my lab, I will be focusing on the use of AR/VR for training and education. I am hoping to do experiments that definitively show that these technologies help students to learn more effectively and efficiently. I am working on developing an approach to creating training and educational experiences using a systems engineering framework.

I am also focused on collaborative learning, and I believe these technologies will be key for bringing people together from all over the world to learn together.

How did you initially become interested in AR/VR? 

When I lived in Israel, the thing I missed most was free libraries where I could check out books on anything I wanted to learn about. When I moved back to Fort Collins in 2009, I found an American Library Association (ALA) accredited program in Library & Information Science that was delivered completely online, and I decided to get a master’s degree with a focus on technologies for distance education.

I took several courses in 3D virtual worlds and realized the power of 3D Immersive environments for training and education. I would have loved to have been able to connect with people in the U.S. using immersive technologies while I was living half a world away.

What do you wish people knew about your research area?

I wish people understood that AR and especially VR is not just for gaming and other entertainment applications. They are powerful tools that “facilitate authentic learning experiences, empower learners as creative designers and makers, integrate immersive storytelling in learning, integrate immersive learning in STEM, foster collaboration with social VR and other XR technologies, cultivate immersive and blended-reality learning spaces and laboratories, and develop the capabilities of the future workforce” (Lee, M. J. W., Georgieva, M., Alexander, B., Craig, E., & Richter, J. (2021). State of XR & Immersive Learning Outlook Report 2021. Walnut, CA: Immersive Learning Research Network.)

In addition, AR & VR can be used for scenarios where it is too dangerous for humans to interact in, for example, the use of autonomous vehicle control in a nuclear reactor.

What do you like to do when you aren’t working?

I am a volunteer for the Virtual Center for Archives and Records Administration (VCARA), a student group for the San José State University, iSchool which is located in the virtual world of Second Life.

I build environments for education and create programs (colloquia, conferences, invited talks) for students and faculty at the iSchool. I also run the VR Exploder’s club which meets and explores difference social VR worlds every 3rd Friday of the month. Anyone who wants to join the VR Exploders Club is welcome to send me an email and I can add them to the distribution list. It is open to anyone interested in learning about these environments in a welcoming and helpful community. No VR Headset required!  Every world we visit will have a desktop version.

When I’m not doing that, I love to run, do needlework, cook, and hang out with my family of 3 kids, a husband who is a chef, our dog and two cats.