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Spotlight on Students - James Hopfenblatt

James HopfenblattCreating Virtual Experiences

From Facebook headquarters in Silicon Valley to the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City, James Hopfenblatt, a PhD student in Architectural Studies, has been busy demonstrating the wide range of practical applications for digital media and visualization technology.

A native of Bolivia, James has lived in mid-Missouri since the age of 14, and he received his undergraduate degree in Architectural Studies from Mizzou in 2010. After graduation, he went on to gain practical experience working in digital fabrication at Central Missouri Countertops, where he planned digital templates and programmed machines that would build furnishings for various hospitals, schools, and other commercial projects.

After a few years, James decided that continuing his education would allow him to expand his creative capabilities. "I was always into visualization technology and wanted to work on skills to help me create more things, different content," he said.

As a graduate student, James has been an active member of the Immersive Visualization Lab (iLab), which is directed by Dr. Bimal Balakrishnan, chair of the Department of Architectural Studies. The iLab uses 3D visualization techniques to address problems in a variety of contexts, and it collaborates widely with other departments and organizations. "We take physical spaces and recreate them in virtual reality to conduct experiments that would be expensive or dangerous in real life," James explained.

For example, James recently worked with the iLab on a driving simulation study funded by the Missouri Department of Transportation. Using crash data and visualization technology, the lab developed simulations of different crash scenarios to analyze driver behavior and to investigate safer design alternatives.

Also, in collaboration with Mizzou’s Museum of Art and Archaeology, James helped make art in a remote place more accessible to an audience in Jefferson City. As part of the recent renovations at the State Capitol building, efforts are being made to conserve the numerous works there. This includes the statue of Ceres (goddess of agriculture) at the very top of the Capitol dome, which is based on an original version of the sculpture by Sherry Edmundson Fry, located in the Museum of Art and Archaeology. In an effort to raise money to have the statue re-bronzed, state officials contacted Dr. Alec Barker, director of the museum, to discuss options for presenting Fry’s statue at the museum to policymakers and potential donors. Dr. Barker enlisted the iLab to present a virtual version of the statue that could be transported anywhere. Barker says, "I was able to work with [the iLab] to have 3D scans made of the piece [in the museum], which James then made into VR scans so they could be experienced in greater realism and depth" at a fundraiser in Jefferson City. It was a project that the iLab completed quickly in order to promote the work of HES and Mizzou in the capital city.

Through the iLab, James has also collaborated with organizations in the private sector such as Oculus VR, a company specializing in virtual reality (VR) technology that was recently acquired by Facebook. Through the Oculus NextGen program, which provides universities with workshops and hardware to develop their own VR programs, James had the opportunity to visit Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California to discuss what the iLab at Mizzou has been able to accomplish with virtual reality. "They wanted to see what academic groups are doing with VR," James said. "It was easy to feel comfortable there, because their headquarters were very much like a college campus."

James is leaving his options open for his next steps after graduation, but he hopes to find a job that allows him to do some teaching but still provides a creative outlet, whether that job is at a university, in a lab, or at a secondary school. James says, "I like teaching, but I also like doing. And teaching makes you better at creating things."

ILAB demonstration

ILAB demonstration

ILAB demonstration

Governor Parson’s tour of the iLAB allowed the Governor and visitors the opportunity to see firsthand how virtual reality can impact design.

Spotlight on Alumna - Ashton Chapman

Ashton ChapmanMizzou Alumna Draws Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Support to Build a Healthier America

Ashton Chapman, an alumna of the University of Missouri (PhD, Human Environmental Sciences), has been selected to participate in a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation leadership development program designed to equip leaders across the country — in every sector and field — to collaborate, break down silos, and use their influence to make communities healthier and more equitable.

Specifically, Chapman was selected to participate in the Culture of Health Leaders program. Designed for people from all sectors — from technology and business to architecture and urban planning — Culture of Health Leaders fosters cross-sector collaboration. The program enables participants to remain in their homes and jobs and directly apply everything they learn to improving policy and practice in their communities and organizations.

Chapman is currently a postdoctoral research associate in human development and family studies at Iowa State University and associate director of research and engagement for the ISU Translational Research Network, familiarly known as U-TuRN. The transdisciplinary U-TuRN network aims to bridge science with practice through community-engaged scholarship. The network is building sustainable systems that empower communities to take science-based actions that enable healthier lifestyles for all.

As a member of the Culture of Health Leaders program’s newest cohort, Chapman’s work will focus on ways to improve the social and emotional health of older adults and their families in rural America. As part of the program, she will also:

  • Benefit from high-caliber curricula and coaching from national leaders.
  • Collaborate with other cutting-edge thinkers to create greater impact.
  • Accelerate her ability to build healthy communities, inform public opinion and policy, and contribute significantly to building a culture of health.

Key contacts:

Ashton Chapman, postdoctoral research associate in human development and family studies and associate director of research and engagement for the Translational Research Network, Iowa State University, 417-529-7995,

Spotlight on Faculty - Dr. Virginia Ramseyer Winter

Ginny Ramseyer WinterCollaborative Impact

While working as a community health educator at Planned Parenthood in Knoxville, Tennessee, Ginny Ramseyer Winter observed a concerning trend among the high school students whom she was training. "I noticed what we call a ‘normative discontent’ – that many of them were struggling with body image issues, which seemed to affect their behavior," she said. This question about the relationship between body image and health behaviors inspired Dr. Ramseyer Winter to pursue a PhD in Social Work, and her research has focused on body image issues ever since.

After completing her MSW, she pursued an active professional career in public health in the Kansas City area (her home region) and then spent time as a Peace Corps volunteer, stationed in Dashaguz, Turkmenistan. When she returned, she continued working in community health for Planned Parenthood in Tennessee.

You are good enoughIt is common for Social Work professors to have a professional career before seeking a doctoral degree, since the accrediting body for Social Work programs, the Council on Social Work Education, requires experience in professional practice for those teaching specific social work courses. Dr. Ramseyer Winter sees the true benefit of the experience in her work. "It keeps me grounded in the community," she said, "and it makes it easier to bring up examples from the real world in the classroom."

Since 2015, Dr. Ramseyer Winter has been Assistant Professor with the School of Social Work at Mizzou. It was then that she realized that, in order for her research to have a strong impact, she would need to collaborate with others on campus. "I’ve been seeing a lot of complex social problems that require complex responses so that we can impact the community in a meaningful way," she said, and she therefore began seeking ways to team up with other Mizzou researchers.

Recently, she collaborated on a project with professors from three campus departments: Antoinette Landor (Human Development and Family Science), Kristen Morris (Textile and Apparel Management), and Michelle Teti (School of Health Professions). First, they obtained funding from HES for a writing retreat to develop a proposal for a project using 3D body scanning to study body image and health. Aside from allowing time to focus solely on developing the project, Dr. Ramseyer Winter said that during the retreat, the four professors really got to know each other well, which provided a strong foundation for effective collaborative work. With the proposal they developed during the writing retreat, the group obtained a small grant from MU Patient-Centered Outcomes Research (MU PCOR) Small Project Awards for a pilot project with Dr. Ramseyer Winter as the principal investigator: 3D Body Appreciation Mapping (BAM): A Pilot Study of an Innovative Patient-Driven Body Image/Skin Tone and Health Intervention for College Women.

Dr. Ramseyer Winter explains how she came up with the idea: "I saw an article about using 3D scanning to map professional dancers’ pain and thought, could we also use that to map women’s positive body image?" Using the 3D Whole Body Scanner from Textile and Apparel Management (TAM), the investigators first made 3D scans of study participants. In TAM, the 3D scanner is used to understand different body sizes and how garments fit, but for this project, researchers asked participants to map their body appreciation on virtual images (avatars) of themselves. Their preliminary findings suggest that asking individuals to think about their bodies in this way does have a positive effect on their overall body image and well-being.

Since their pilot project was a success, the team of collaborators is currently working on a proposal for a federal grant that will allow them to expand the project further. We look forward to hearing their final results!

avatarsPost-intervention screenshots of participant avatars
(3-Dimensional Body Appreciation Mapping Research Project; Ramseyer Winter, Landor, Morris, Teti, & Schliep, under review)

Spotlight on Staff - Briana Johnson

Briana JohnsonBrianna Johnson, Instructional Designer
Dean’s Office, Human Environmental Sciences

In recent years, Instructional Design has become an integral part of higher education, yet few people may be familiar with the role instructional designers play at Mizzou. As the instructional designer for Human Environmental Sciences, Briana Johnson helps faculty members develop quality courses for both online and physical classrooms so that our students have the most engaging learning experience possible. 

“Nobody told me to go get a career, everyone just told me to go get a job,” Briana said, explaining her path to a career in Instructional Design. Although it is not a career for which she planned early on, she made strategic decisions since graduating from high school that led her to a satisfying career in educational technology and course design. A native of Linn, MO, Briana took advantage of an A+ scholarship to attend East Central Community College in Union, MO, then transferred to Columbia College where she received a B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Business Administration. After graduation, she worked as an administrative assistant for Columbia College and used their employee assistance program to get an MBA while working there.

With a solid education, Briana landed a job that planted the seeds for a career in Instructional Design. She spent a year running the testing center at Columbia College where she gained experience proctoring exams and interacting with faculty members, and from there, she was quickly hired as course review specialist for the college. She spent three years in that role, developing her knowledge of course design, and when the opportunity came to move to Mizzou in 2014, she eagerly took the opportunity to advance her career in Instructional Design here.

By then, Instructional Design had become a bigger buzzword in higher education, and there were more opportunities to work in the field, particularly at Mizzou, where instructional designers like Briana are hired under Educational Technologies (ET@MO). Creating quality courses requires a lot of planning, especially for online courses, so Briana helps faculty members create a full course blueprint before building a course online so that the structure is thoughtful and intentional. Online courses are different from traditional classes in that they require more self-regulation and self-directed learning on the part of the student, and things that work in a physical classroom, such as long lectures, might not be as effective in an online environment. “It’s important to ask, ‘Why, pedagogically, are you doing this?’” Briana said. “It’s not just using technology for the sake of using technology.” The rave reviews from our faculty members testify to quality of Briana’s contribution to their teaching. “Briana is one of the most reliable, giving, and positive-spirited employees in our college,” said Ruth Tofle, Professor Emerita of Architectural Studies. 

Alexandria Lewis, Assistant Teaching Professor in the School of Social Work, said, “She has become my lifeline by throwing a rope for rescue from difficult situations.”

Briana is passionate about the impact her work has on student learning, and in the past, she has taught “Strategies for Success” courses at Columbia College in the evening. Although she doesn’t work with students directly at Mizzou, she still finds the positive impact she has through the faculty very fulfilling. As she emphasizes, “You really can meet students where they are and help them succeed.”