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WV Hope Stories


With the help of strategic communications students at the West Virginia University Reed College of Media, lawmakers and other influencers in Washington, D.C., were able to experience flood recovery in southern West Virginia without ever leaving the Capitol.

“West Virginia Hope Stories” is an immersive storytelling project using 360° video and AR to highlight the resilient spirit of West Virginians and inspire action to help flood victims still in need of assistance. The project features three separate stories about ordinary people in southern West Virginia who are changing lives in their communities from within the public school system.

“Once people put on the headset and watched the videos, they were much more interested in our cause. It was incredible to watch their reactions. One woman couldn’t even finish the video because she was crying,” said strategic communications senior Bree McCullough. “A lot of people would say they’d forgotten the flood happened, so I believe our demos served as a way to remind them that many are still struggling and still need help.”

The students traveled to D.C. in June to introduce their augmented and virtual reality project to members of Congress, area professionals and fellow Mountaineers. The initiative is part of the College of Media’s Harrison/Omnicom Innovator-in-Residence Program, founded by Advertising CEO Dr. Tom Harrison. Also on hand to answer questions was Innovator-in-Residence Ben Roffee, digital director at RYOT, an immersive storytelling affiliate of The Huffington Post.

Ben Roffee

Innovator-in-residence Ben Roffee works with students in the Media Innovation Center.

Integrated marketing communications graduate student Aishina Shaffer said she believes it’s important for people who are connected to the state to experience these immersive stories, especially those on Capitol Hill.

“Virtual reality allowed us to place viewers into these communities, letting them see and experience the parts of the state that are still in disrepair in a way that isn't supported by linear video,” Shaffer said. “I hope that our state representatives will be affected by our stories and work to help those who are still in need.”

After meeting with representatives of both West Virginia senators, the team attended a panel discussion hosted by the Grassroots Professional Network. The panel featured Roffee and Assistant Professor Geah Pressgrove, who co-taught the class. It focused on the use of AR/VR for advocacy and cause marketing and provided students with another opportunity to exhibit their work and cause.

Later that day, the group shared their stories with hundreds more at the West Virginia State Society’s annual State Birthday Celebration. Attendees experienced 360° video using VR headsets and watched photos come to life through AR.

The Harrison/Omnicom Innovator-in-Residence Program was established to draw uniquely talented and creative collaborators to campus to work with students on experimental projects that push the boundaries of traditional strategic communications.