MACE Virtual Labs and Houston Community College teamed up to create a new virtual reality lab at the HCC West Loop campus. Photo via hccs.edu

Earlier this month, Houston Community College opened its new virtual reality lab at its HCC West Loop campus.

The new space comes from a partnership between HCC Southwest and Houston-based MACE Virtual Labs — an extended reality software company. The $175,000 facility boasts VR stations, flat-screen monitors, Telsasuits, VR headsets and motion-activated car driving simulators, according to a news release, and is a rare concept within higher education, says Sean Otmishi, dean of HCC Digital and Information Technology Center of Excellence, in the release.

"This puts us in an area where few other (educational) institutions have gone," Otmishi says. "We're at the forefront. We are the global leaders."

VR concepts are at the forefront of innovation, says HCC Chancellor Cesar Maldonado, and the technology is being used as a cheaper, safer training process.

"Higher education has always been at the cutting edge of new technologies, driving development and creating the next generation of scientists, developers and entrepreneurs," says Maldonado in the release. "Virtual and augmented reality technologies are at the front of development right now and change is happening at a frenetic pace."

The VR lab, which opened December 5, is not just a benefit to the school system, but it also represents a win for the greater Houston community — especially when it comes to this opportunity for training, says Madeline Burillo-Hopkins, president of HCC Southwest, in the release.

"This VR lab brings to Houston companies access to the latest technology for professional development of their incumbent workers," she says. "Through this partnership with MACE Labs, HCC can provide customized training using the latest VR technology available overseas until now."

MACE Virtual Labs, which is based just north of the Heights, was founded in 2017 and provides software and hardware for various VR purposes.

"This is the equipment of the future," says Josh Bankston, a partner in MACE Virtual Labs. "It makes really good sense, both philanthropically and businesswise, to create a partnership with HCC that puts this equipment in the hands of the students and the faculty which will benefit everyone, from education to the workforce and beyond."

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Comcast donates tech, funds to support diversity-focused nonprofit

gift of tech

A Houston organization focused on helping low-income communities by providing access to education, training, and employment has received a new donation.

Comcast’s Internet Essentials program announced the a donation of a $30,000 financial grant and 1,000 laptops to SERJobs. The gift is part of a new partnership with SERJobs that's aimed at educating and equipping adults with technical skills, including training on Microsoft Office and professional development.

“SERJobs is excited to celebrate 10 years of Comcast's Internet Essentials program,” says Sheroo Mukhtiar, CEO, SERJobs, in a news release. “The Workforce Development Rally highlights the importance of digital literacy in our increasingly virtual world—especially as technology and the needs of our economy evolve. We are grateful to Comcast for their ongoing partnership and support of SERJobs’ and our members.”

For 10 years Comcast's Internet Essentials program has connected more than 10 million people to the Internet at home — most for the first time. This particular donation is a part of Project UP, Comcast’s comprehensive initiative to advance digital equity.

“Ten years is a remarkable milestone, signifying an extraordinary amount of work and collaboration with our incredible community partners across Houston,” says Toni Beck, vice president of external affairs at Comcast Houston, in the release.

“Together, we have connected hundreds of thousands of people to the power of the Internet at home, and to the endless opportunity, education, growth, and discovery it provides," she continues. "Our work is not done, and we are excited to partner with SERJobs to ensure the next generation of leaders in Houston are equipped with the technical training they need to succeed in an increasingly digital world.”

It's not the first time the tech company has supported Houston's low-income families. This summer, Comcast's Internet Essentials program and Region 4 Education Service Center partnered with the Texas Education Agency's Connect Texas Program to make sure Texas students have access to internet services.

Additionally, Comcast set up an internet voucher program with the City of Houston last December, and earlier this year, the company announced 50 Houston-area community centers will have free Wi-Fi connections for three years. Earlier this year, the company also dedicated $1 million to small businesses struggling due to the pandemic that are owned by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

President Joe Biden appoints Houston green space guru to lofty national post

new gig

Aprominent and nationally acclaimed Houston parks presence has just received a hefty national appointment. President Joe Biden has named Beth White, Houston Parks Board president and CEO, the chair of the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the organization announced.

The NCPC, established by Congress in 1924, is the federal government’s central planning agency for the National Capital Region. The commission provides overall guidance related to federal land and buildings in the region. Functions include reviewing the design of federal and local projects, overseeing long-range planning for future development, and monitoring capital investment by federal agencies.

Fittingly, White was initially appointed to NCPC as the at-large presidential commissioner in January 2012, per a press release. She was reappointed for another six-year term in 2016. Most recently, White served as the commission’s vice-chair.

“I’m honored to chair the National Capital Planning Commission and work with my fellow commissioners to build and sustain a livable, resilient capital region and advance the Biden Administration’s critical priorities around sustainability, equity, and innovation,” White said in a statement.

Before joining Houston Parks Board in 2016, White served as the director of the Chicago Region Office of The Trust for Public Land, where she spearheaded development of The 606 public park and was instrumental in establishing Hackmatack Wildlife Refuge.

Renowned in the Windy City, she also was managing director of communications and policy for the Chicago Housing Authority; chief of staff for the Chicago Transit Authority’s Chicago Transit Board; and assistant commissioner for the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development. She was the founding executive director of Friends of the Chicago River, and currently serves on the Advisory Board for Urban Land Institute Houston.

The graduate of Northwestern and Loyola universities most recently received the Houston Business Journal’s 2021 Most Admired CEO award, per her bio.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.