John Tolley, December 17, 2016

Given the fact that Penn State is one of the world?s top research universities, it may seem slightly incongruous that it started in 1855 as an agricultural school.

But even then, the nascent Penn State was at the forefront of what would come to define modern higher education. Applying rigorous scientific techniques and research to a backbone industry of our young nation, the college was a charter land-grant institution. As such, Penn State was founded not just for the benefit of students, but for the common good of the United States.

That spirit continues to this day. The 2016 Penn State LiveBIG vignettes below showcase students, faculty, alumni, and staff dedicated to the university?s simple, yet profound, motto, Making Life Better.


Penn State powers up social skills of kids with autism: BTN LiveBIG

To help children with autism better understand these social cues, Scherf and colleagues at Penn State developed a video game to teach them how to do things like read facial expressions and make eye contact. They came up with the idea while running trials of a program that involved ?incredibly boring? training.

?We started employing some basic principles of gaming to try to enhance the motivation of the kids,? she said. ?We built a narrative and we talked to them about chasing criminals, and we told them that they have to figure out who the criminal was going to be.?


PSU student gives voice to problem of communication limitations: BTN LiveBIG

McCulloch realized that if she could devise a simple solution to the challenges that most of these children faced, it would go a long way to improve both their lives and those of the people who interact with them every day. Thus, Project Vive was born.

McCulloch set out to create a mechanism, now called the Vive Device, which uses small movements from one joint of the body in order to construct full sentences.


Penn State student empowers children around the world: BTN LiveBIG

?I started making my own crafts,? Gupta said. ?I went door-to-door. I would explain what was going on in India and why I?m helping these kids. Then we [started selling] crafts made by the orphans themselves. Then, I started doing small-scale fundraisers and started applying for grants.?

It was soon apparent that this was more than the work of a kind-hearted girl; it was, for all intents and purposes, a de facto charitable aid organization. Under the banner of Empower Orphans, the group was soon registered as a 501(c)(3).

And Gupta wasn?t even a teenager yet when that happened.


Penn State looks to give the blind a 'Third Eye': BTN LiveBIG

?The concept is that a person with visual impairment has a camera mounted on a glove,? says Carroll, Distinguished Professor of Information Sciences and Technology at PSU. ?They direct their hand towards places and targets of interest. The computer recognition system takes the camera data, understands what?s in front of the camera and signals back to the person through vibrations on the glove or verbal or tone signaling through ear phones.?