The Living History of Providence Academy

The Living History of Providence Academy
A virtual reality experience designed by WSU Vancouver students lets visitors experience the sounds and sights of The Academy as never before.

If Mother Joseph lived in these times, she would probably be CEO of SpaceX, and she’d be preparing to set up camp on a far-away planet right now. As it is, she was certainly a woman before her time. In 1856, she was asked to lead four missionaries from Montreal to help with the diocese in the Pacific Northwest Territories. After arriving in Vancouver, Wash., that same year, she founded the Providence of the Holy Angels. As its leader, she oversaw a convent, novitiate, infirmary, orphanage, boarding and day school, rooms for the elderly and insane, and the first St. Joseph Hospital.

Mother Joseph.
Photo courtesy The Historic Trust

After a long dispute over property ownership at its first settlement, Mother Joseph purchased property, and designed and oversaw the construction of Providence Academy—a new home for the Providence of the Holy Angels. Construction was completed in 1874. Today Providence Academy is owned by The Historic Trust. And the trust is taking steps to preserve both the building and the history that comes with it.

WSU Vancouver students in the Creative Media and Digital Culture program are using technology to ensure visitors to the academy have an opportunity to learn about Mother Joseph and the rich history of the property. “Providence Academy Journey” is an augmented reality application that lets visitors point their smart phone at icons placed throughout the building and interact with videos and graphics that tell a remarkable story. Ten episodes were created in fall semester 2017:

A sneak peak of the "Providence Academy Journey" user interface.
Image courtesy Creative Media and Digital Culture Program
  1. Mother Joseph Diorama tells of the faith and devotion that fueled her efforts to establish Providence Academy.
  2. Bell Tower lets you virtually ring the bell while learning about its transportation, installation and reinstallation.
  3. Sacred Heart Secret Garden invites you to interact with the historically significant treasures buried in a time capsule.
  4. Auditorium shows you the Providence Academy’s residents, their musical productions, celebrations and graduations.
  5. Shrine encourages you to light a virtual candle at the beautiful shrine that once stood at Providence Academy.
  6. Private Chambers gives you a never-before-seen peek into Mother Joseph’s personal living quarters.
  7. Staircase teaches you about the beautiful architecture that was also an example of passive air conditioning.
  8. Footsteps of Mother Joseph is an interactive map that depicts Mother Joseph’s many travels.
  9. Re-creation of Surrounding Buildings shows the lost buildings of Providence Academy.
  10. Historical Figures is a timeline of the most influential people in Vancouver’s history.

Projects like Providence Academy are not atypical for students in the Creative Media and Digital Culture program. Led by program Director and Professor Dene Grigar, students in her senior seminar courses have completed augmented reality applications for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the Mount St. Helens Institute and the Museum of the Oregon Territory, among others.

Students work in teams and interact with their clients just as they would in a paid position. They suit up and attend meetings where they pitch their ideas—sometimes in front of a board of directors. They create and send their work for review. They take feedback, incorporate it and troubleshoot glitches. The only difference is, every project must be completed in a 16-week semester. The pressure is on!

CMDC students demonstrate "Providence Academy Journey" in action.
Photo: Dene Grigar

“This is a great example of a partnership that engages people,” said Mike True, president and CEO of The Historic Trust, “’Providence Academy Journey’ has had a great reception. It’s creating buzz about engaging people with history and getting statewide recognition.”

During spring semester, Grigar’s senior seminar students are developing a site-specific game application for The Historic Trust. “It’s sort of ‘Game of Thrones’ meets ‘Pokemon Go,’” said True. The gamification of history is a fun and competitive way to teach visitors about The Historic Trust and its properties. Forty students will put in more than 150 hours each to complete the project this semester. Get ready to play in May 2018.

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About Northwest Crimson & Gray

Northwest Crimson & Gray is the semiannual magazine of WSU Vancouver, produced to highlight the WSU Vancouver community and higher education in Southwest Washington.