Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 2, 1997

Prospective Students
Get "First Look"
At Hopkins

Leslie Rice
News and Information
For years, one of Hopkins' best undergraduate student recruiting tools has been the campus itself.

Any Hopkins recruiter will tell you that if you just get the student on campus to meet undergraduates and faculty and get a real sense of all the university has to offer, it's hard for a bright, ambitious student not to get excited by Hopkins.

Finally, for those hard-to-reach students who can't come to Hopkins, the university has figured out a way to come to them. In fact, it'll even offer a fly-by of the city of Baltimore in media tycoon Michael Bloomberg's helicopter. Virtually.

This week, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions will release First Look, its first-ever CD-ROM version of the traditional course and university guide called the viewbook.

Although CD-ROM viewbooks are the wave of the future for many colleges and universities, what sets First Look apart from its competition is that it was entirely created and directed by Hopkins students.

"I'd say about 100 universities have come out with their own CD-ROM, or digital, viewbooks but I have yet to see anything as entertaining or interactive as what our students have created," says Robert Massa, dean of enrollment management. "What some universities are offering isn't the same thing at all. Often, they are doing little more than simply downloading the catalog onto a CD."

Those digital viewbooks certainly don't have, for example, an environmental engineer professor talking about his department and the study of environmental hazards while wearing huge radiation protection rubber gloves. Or a wise-cracking freshman leading the viewer around the cafeteria while he gets his lunch. First Look also offers kinetic, MTV-style videos of major campus events like Spring Fair, Orientation and Commencement, and 90 minutes' worth of other lively clickable moments led by "genies," the nickname for the Hopkins virtual student guides who lead the users on the university tour.

First Look incorporates course guide information, interviews with students, professors and deans of every department in formal and informal settings, videos of campus life, and plenty of historical and local detail. All the information is embedded in a virtual reality version of the Homewood campus. Users "tour" the campus and explore different aspects of Hopkins by moving from building to building, for instance, visiting the German Department office in Gilman to learn what courses are offered, or going to Wolman Hall to see an interview with an RA and check out a dorm room.

"This winded up being a massive, massive project," said Matthew Sewell, project director and an English graduate student. "I've often wondered if any one of us would have signed on for this had we seen ahead of time how big this whale would be. But despite how busy we all were with studies, jobs and everything else, the level of commitment from the whole group was really amazing. There were a lot of late nights; toward the end of the project there was at least one person in the lab 24 hours a day." First Look's four creators--Sewell; Josh Greenberg, a senior history of science major; Aaron Krajewski, who graduated last spring with a degree in international studies; and Gil Jawetz, a '95 graduate who co-directed a short film his senior year--are a fairly unlikely group thrown together under the gentle prodding of Jerry Christensen and Harry Goldberg, co-directors of the Center for Digital Media, both of whom served as advisers for the project.

The concept, originally pitched by Christensen, Greenberg, Jawetz and fellow student Mike De Paola--who later left the project--was commissioned by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions in the spring of '95.

"Bob Massa and the others over at Admissions were really supportive of this project from the beginning, says Jawetz. "When we first tried to sell the concept to them, we had this crazy idea that it would be about an alien invasion, and the aliens only had a certain amount of time to learn everything about Hopkins. At another point we wanted the student guides to be actual genies who would pop out of pumpkins. And yet for some reason the Admissions people always told us they really liked our ideas. Looking back, what they said about us and our ideas once the door was closed is anybody's guess."

Massa says the fact that First Look was created by Hopkins students on campus was always one of its major selling points.

"Because it's done by students, it captures the heart of the university in a way that a professional, non-Hopkins group could never do," he explains. "And by its very nature, it also gives prospective students an idea of the level of resources and support the university offers undergraduates for student-driven projects."

And it's an incredibly economical way to sell the university, he adds.

"CD viewbooks cost about a third to produce as their paper counterparts," says Massa. "And because we hired students to create it, it cost significantly less than if we had hired a company to produce them for us."

For the students, it wound up being a learn-as-you-go project. They agree that if they were to do it all over again, knowing what they do now, it would take less than half the time to complete it.

"At this point, we're really excited to see it finally mass-produced," says Sewell. "It'll be a very gratifying, rewarding moment for all four of us."

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