Monday – June 18, 2018

MATC Animation Students Create High-Tech Virtual Lab Space for Marquette University Nursing Students

August 2014

Recent MATC graduate Alain Poma (l), instructor Brian Mennenoh (c) and student  Louis Troutman (r) ,
all of MATC's animation associate degree program, inspect the 3-D virtual clinical environment
the MATC students created for use by Marquette University nursing students.


When Marquette University professors needed creative and technical assistance to build a realistic, 3-D, virtual environment lab space for nursing students, they did not have far to look. They found the help they needed just down the street – at MATC's Downtown Milwaukee Campus, where animation associate degree program students train for just this type of project.

Four MATC students worked at MU weekly last semester creating a virtual hospital room that will be used as alternative lab space for the nursing students. They built the site in MU's $1 million Visualization Lab. When Brian Mennenoh, instructional chair for the MATC animation program, learned that Marquette was looking for someone with the technical expertise to create the work space, he contacted John La Disa, MU associate professor of biomedical engineering, who oversees the lab. 

Animation Students Work with Marquette as Professional Client
"The animation students have been working with Marquette as a professional client," Mennenoh explained. "This project is great career preparation for them."

Marquette's CAVE (computer assisted virtual environment) holds a stage within a bigger room. The stage allows an audience or a class to watch what is happening in the virtual environment.  The CAVE is used by a variety of Marquette departments and is designed to provide immersive reality to aid in learning.

"Marquette is relying on MATC students to create the realism needed to make this technology work," La Disa said. "The MATC students have been very dedicated to their work here."


Visualization Lab - Brian-Alain-Louis-on-computer
Mennenoh, Troutman and Poma (l to r) work on a computer at the
Marquette University Visualization Lab.

Creating a Virtual "Twin" to Existing Lab Space
MATC students Shaun de Werff, Alain Poma, Aaron Szyjakowski and Louis Troutman studied and measured all aspects of the traditional nursing lab space and then used 3-D software to create a "twin" virtual room in the CAVE.  The beds are real and the "patients" are either classmates or interactive mannequins that simulate patients. The rest of the lab is projected virtual reality.

"We measured everything, down to the minute details," said Poma, who graduated from MATC's animation program in May 2014. "We measured cables, wires, monitoring devices, everything. We added texture and misshapen wires. Without that, the room would look sterile. We created a view out the window that pays homage to the Milwaukee skyline."  The view on the other side of the room appears to be a hospital hallway. Ambient noise adds to the realism.

Originally, the MATC students designed a virtual lab that held one patient bed. When Marquette professors decided they wanted to accommodate more nursing students by using side-by-side patient beds, the MATC students were able to make quick adjustments to the virtual room. "The nice thing about 3-D is that once it's built, we can easily move things around and make adjustments in the room," said Troutman. "Unlike rebuilding physical space, if we want to change the look of the room, we can do that with the click of a mouse."

The physical lab space looks nearly identical to the virtual room, Mennenoh said.  "The virtual equipment displayed is within centimeters of the size of the equipment in the 'real' lab."

Marquette's "Fundamentals of Nursing" class experimented with the virtual lab this summer. Labs were held in the afternoons and the classes were split. Half the students worked in the traditional lab, the other half in the simulated lab. Marquette professors plan to analyze whether the quality of learning is roughly the same regardless of whether students practiced in the virtual space or the traditional lab space. "I think the students' performance in the regular lab and the virtual lab seems very comparable," said Roschelle Manigold, MU nursing professor. 

"The virtual lab is very similar to the regular nursing lab," said Amanda Cummins, Marquette nursing graduate student.  "All facets are the same except that we have to wear 3-D glasses in the virtual lab."

Expanding Lab Space Through Virtual Reality
The nursing lab was chosen for replication because Marquette professors wanted the nursing students to have more one-on-one lab time. "Our thought is that more hands-on time will help them learn more, and learn it more quickly," La Disa said. "There are fewer medical settings available for our students to use for clinical placements than there used to be. This may be the students' first exposure to working in something like a clinical setting. Working in a simulated setting may alleviate fear of working in a real world setting." 

"The animation students have been working with Marquette as a professional client.
This project is great career preparation for them."
- Brian Mennenoh, instructional chair, MATC animation program

Both the Marquette nursing students and the MATC animation students benefitted from the project. "Working on this project opens doors to jobs in medical illustration for us," Poma said. "We were in a time crunch to finish this, but we made time for it. It was hard juggling school and internships and trying to get it ready for the first week of June, but it was worth it."

MATC animation students may have more chances to continue the partnership. Marquette hopes to eventually have a virtual operating room, an intensive care room and a home health care setting. 

"We'd like to continue with this project," said Poma. "It's a really cool educational tool. It gave us a chance to practice what we've learned. It was great to be a part of something that can educate and educate well."

For more information on MATC's animation associate degree program, visit:



MATC animation student Louis Troutman
uses 3-D animation software to create a
virtual hospital room setting.

Marquette University nursing students
 practice clinical skills in a 3-D virtual hospital
room designed by MATC animation students.