Over the course of the pandemic, colleges have upped their digital recruitment efforts to better serve the majority of students who enroll without visiting a campus. At the same time, lockdowns have also been a chance to build or renovate high-impact visitors centers, where many recruits will decide which college feels like home to them. These in-person experiences can feature engaging AV backed with data analysis; the buildings and content will also provide IRL centerpieces for student life and pride, as college communities rebuild.
For the Naval Academy Athletic Association in Annapolis, Maryland, the Ron Terwilliger ’63 Center for Student-Athletes is such a centerpiece—a 25,000-square-foot facility that highlights the Academy’s tradition and history of physical education and intercollegiate athletics. The center includes the new Akerson Theater, a 180-degree immersive theater on a par with a museum attraction, using a suite of Christie products, including HS Series projectors, Spyder X20, Mystique and Pandoras Box. It is designed to help inform visitors, prospective midshipmen, and families about opportunities at the school.
The Naval Academy Athletic Association (NAAA) hired Dimensional Innovations (DI) to design, integrate and provide content for the Center and the Akerson Theater. The project began in 2017 and was originally conceived as a visitors’ center, but says Drew Berst, Executive Director, Dimensional Innovations, “The Center was really about what it meant to be a midshipman student-athlete—the academics, and the physicality of it. The NAAA wanted a space to celebrate the accomplishments of its intercollegiate athletics department, and do it in a way that was interactive and state-of-the-art.”
Dimensional Innovations is based in Overland Park, Kansas. It’s a forward looking, cross-disciplined AV company with skills in content creation, experience design, fabrication and systems integration, programming, and data analysis. A team of more than 250 people work together in the 210,000-squarefoot facility and is one of Inc. Magazine’s fastest growing companies four years in a row. They work across pro and college sports, higher ed, corporate, healthcare, entertainment, retail, museums and zoos, and civic and transport for clients including the Los Angeles Raiders, Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Panthers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Mercedes Benz Stadium, State Farm Arena, Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, University of Kansas, University of North Carolina, Helzberg Diamonds, H&R Block, Blue Cross Blue Shield, LinkedIn, Evel Knieval Museum, AMC, Caterpillar, and many more.
“Recruiting is at an all time high,” Berst says of DI’s multiple collegiate clients who look for a centralized place to tell a story about who they are. “At the Naval Academy, the space is really emotional even without the content. The same thing is true of the content, we’re trying to make emotion in a moment when someone is trying to make decisions. We want to give them a chance to walk into a building that immediately tells them ‘this place is me.’
“One of the great things about higher ed is they have all the content in the world you could ever want,” Berst says, “they have such a rich archive and can continually refresh the experience.” Equally important, they have a need for data about what connects with recruits. As a modern company, DI can tie analytics into exhibits, providing tools for various departments to request and analyze data that ties into their existing data systems for application and enrollment. This can uniquely give institutions information on direct ROI of a visitor center. “If you’re a president or chancellor, the analytics matter a lot,” Berst says.
According to DI’s design brief, the Terwilliger Center for Student-Athletes clearly communicates the story of NAAA while speaking directly to the desires of the recruits, showing them they can be a part of this historic legacy of talent, service, and commitment. Using the full scope of DI’s capabilities, NAAA’s new space is a personalized, immersive experience, making it one of the most technologically advanced collegiate recruitment centers in the nation. Each interaction clearly articulates the brand mission, honing in on one key question: Who will YOU become?
Says Brian Silvey, Creative Director – Interactive Technology, Dimensional Innovations, “The Academy considered what made them stand out amongst other schools, and one of those things was being timeless. And for us, one of the ways to do that is to integrate technology throughout the space.” For the flagship Akerson Theater, Dimensional Innovations began with a 3D model and worked with Christie to determine the AV requirements. They selected six Christie D20WU-HS 20,000 lumen 1DLP laser projectors, a Pandoras Box Server, a Spyder X20 multi-windowing processor and Christie Mystique to provide automated camera-based alignment and recalibration of the projectors.
The system allows the NAAA to use the theater for presentations, review game footage, or watch a movie. Says Silvey of the Christie Spyder X20, “The Spyder takes inputs from the podium at the front of the theater; two Navyowned computers used for presentations; a Blu-ray player; and three more inputs from a computer displaying a feed from the camera we placed on the roof overlooking the bay.” While the Pandoras Box Server ensures that the playback from the projectors is in sync and coordinates with the 7.1 surround sound audio system.
The projectors are enclosed in a soundproofed ceiling cloud, which can lower to allow for maintenance, and they are warped, blended and aligned using Christie Mystique.
Says Silvey, “We’ve had a longstanding relationship with Christie for many of our projection needs. Our familiarity with the product and partnership with the Christie team has allowed us to easily integrate their hardware into our system.” The system is designed so that the NAAA can create their own custom content in the theater and throughout the Center. Says Berst, “Recruiting experiences can become dated really quickly, but the NAAA can update content and keep it fresh.”
The result is a project that the Naval Academy Athletic Association is very happy with. Says Silvey, “The customer was ecstatic. This is just a very special project for them and the donors. You could see a level of emotion and excitement with the NAAA.”
The theater is the “crown jewel” of the Center, says Silvey. It gives visitors a clear picture of what the school has to offer, celebrates the physical mission of the Academy, and the numerous successes the school and athletes have received.
“I think something we’ve seen in collegiate and other spaces is, as we emerge from the pandemic, the experinces that people are wanting have to be bigger and better than ever,” Berst adds. “More memorable than it’s ever been before. I think when we’re looking at these designs they need to be unique the organization and institution and designed for them and what sets them apart. We want people to feel special. They’re experiencing something they’ve never experienced. We try to put ourselves in those shoes emotionally, as we build the story.” Many times it’s a story that’s already core to the institution, it just needs to be told.
From his perspective as Senior Director of Sales, Entertainment at Christie, Larry Howard has seen the perennial resilience of entertainment in pandemic, even with live venues largely shut down. He feels that all forms of in-person entertainment and communication will be much in demand. “I believe we have done what we needed to do to get through this past year and become as efficient as we can with the tools we have. They’ll be used going forward—and we will start gathering as soon as we can. That’s part personal opinion and part research.” Howard says large screens—whether projector, LED or hybrid—with complex processing have become actually comfortable to do. “Now the projectors are so good and alignment tools are so good, you can’t find the seams or the blendzones.” The NAAA theater is an example of how accessible it has become to deploy large format experiences, and he expects them to become even more widespread.
“The Akerson Theater is a fantastic resource for current and prospective students and teams,” he concludes. “The Naval Academy Athletic Association has set a new benchmark in recruitment, and we’re thrilled to have worked with Dimensional Innovations to bring this project to fruition. They are an incredibly capable group.”