Here's an example of what the metaverse looks like at other schools. Courtesy of VictoryXR.

Averett University will enter the metaverse later this academic year. A digital twin of the university’s campus will allow parents to feel more connected to their students and offer new opportunities in the classroom. 

A digital twin is a virtual version of a real-world, physical space. 

The digital twin of the university would allow users to explore campus without actually being there. Parents could see what their student’s walk to class looks like, for example. 

“We’ve got students from 36 states and 26 countries right now,” said Tiffany Franks, university president. “Families could become immersed in what their student is doing …you can’t help but get pretty fired up about that.”

An example of the metaverse.

Franks said she’s already heard from faculty members in the communications, computer information systems and education departments who have come to her with ideas about how they might implement this new technology into their curriculum, she said. 

“Everybody’s thinking about how they get to use new digital teaching learning tools,” she said. “We’re not just preparing students for their first job after they graduate. We’re preparing them for the sixth and seventh job and importantly, the jobs that we can’t even imagine yet.”

Averett has partnered with California-based Dalrada Financial Corp. to create a metaverse for the campus. The partnership, announced Sept. 16, will also focus on physical changes to Averett’s campus, such as new HVAC systems, prioritizing sustainability and energy efficiency. 

10 schools in the metaverse

Here are 10 other schools that are using the “metaverse”

Morehouse College (in Georgia)
University of Kansas School of Nursing
New Mexico State University
South Dakota State University
Florida A&M University
West Virginia University
Southwestern Oregon Community College
California State University
Alabama A&M University
University of Maryland Global Campus

The university is not the first to enter the metaverse. This fall, 10 universities are delivering programs in the metaverse – an immersive part of the internet accessible with virtual reality equipment. 

Averett is also not the first to prioritize sustainability on campus. 

But the Danville-based private institution is the first in the country to work on these two objectives simultaneously through one partnership, using some of the same technology, said Cassie Jones, assistant vice president of strategic communications at the university. 

Dalrada Energy Services, a division of Dalrada Corp., will work with Averett to achieve this goal. The company is investing over $2 million into this partnership, with no upfront cost for Averett. 

The sustainability efforts will save Averett up to 20% in energy costs and decrease the university’s carbon footprint, a Sept. 16 release said. 

Dalrada will be paid with a portion of the energy savings over 20 years, and the rest of the savings will stay with the university. 

Dalrada and Averett are perfectly positioned to create change with this never-been-done-before project, said Jose Arrieta, chief strategy officer at Dalrada. 

“In order to drive societal change, you have to be able to have a partnership within a community,” he said. “You have to be able to bring differentiating personalities together.”

Both Averett’s leader, Tiffany Franks, and Dalrada’s leader, Brian Bonar, are willing to bring differentiating personalities together, embrace change, and take on this challenge, Arrieta said. 

The objectives of the partnership are twofold: improve campus energy efficiency and give students an immersive digital experience. 

The first is perhaps more straightforward than the second. 

An environmental audit by Richmond-based design engineering firm AKF evaluated 592,000 square feet of Averett’s footprint to get an idea of where energy efficiency could be improved, Franks said. 

One such area is heating. Boilers are responsible for about 60% of domestic carbon dioxide emissions, Arrieta said. 

Dalrada’s LikidoONE clean energy heat pumps require less energy and emit less carbon than traditional boilers. And they also capture and recycle the exhaust heat they create. 

With this technology, “you can fundamentally reduce your need for power and you can fundamentally reduce the emissions into the environment,” Arrieta said. “[Dalrada] has a proprietary capability to do that more efficiently than anyone else on the planet right now.”

A key part of this is measurement. Fraud is a big problem in the carbon credit marketplace, Arrieta said, because of its lack of central regulation. Basically, it’s easy to fudge the numbers, he said. 

But Dalrada’s heat pumps have lots of sensors that record carbon emissions and measure the performance of the machine. 

“We are capturing that data and we’re cryptographically wrapping that data, making it secure so that we can ensure that nobody changes those numbers,” Arrieta said. “What that does is create confidence that you’re having an impact in the marketplace.”

In addition to heat pumps, Dalrada also plans to replace light bulbs and windows to improve energy efficiency. The company is also considering the possibilities of electric vehicle charging stations and solar panels on the roofs of campus buildings. 

Averett is 163 years old, which means that the campus has lots of old buildings and equipment, said Franks.

“We knew we had to move in terms of replacing equipment and becoming more environmentally responsible,” she said. “This [partnership] really became a path for doing that.”

Discussions about a partnership started back in 2020, when the university hired Averett alumnus John Vigouroux as chief entrepreneurship and innovation officer. Vigouroux had a connection with Dalrada president Tom Giles, and put the company in touch with the university, Franks said.

The conversation was initially focused on sustainability efforts, she said. Only after Arrieta joined Dalrada in July 2022 was there talk about a digital ecosystem. 

Which brings us to the other part of the partnership – launching the university into the metaverse.

The metaverse at Morehouse College. Courtesy of VictoryXR.

Dalrada is working with imagineeer, a Web 3.0 solutions company that Arrieta founded during his time as chief information officer for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to accomplish the metaverse goals of this partnership. 

Dalrada, with imagineer, has already created a digital twin for Averett’s campus. Dalrada also has the ability to create crypto assets, and plans to introduce an Averett token to students. 

“We’re gonna need to recruit a few area businesses that would be willing to step up and receive the currency,” Franks said. 

Arrieta explained a potential scenario of students using Averett tokens. 

“What if we give every student at Averett University $1,000 worth of an Averett token, a digital currency?” Arrieta said. “And what if we get the ax-throwing entertainment venue, the pizza shop and the brewery to accept Averett tokens?”

Perhaps each student would only be allowed to spend half of that on themselves, Arrieta said, and the other $500 would have to be given to someone else. 

“If somebody does something kind for you, if they help you with your homework, if they leave the library open for a few minutes so that you can find a book that you need, then you reward them by Averett tokens,” he said.

This would give students a hands-on learning experience with cryptocurrency, he said, encouraging digital financial literacy and “incentivizing happiness and partnership.”

“Are we trying to create the next Bitcoin? No, we’re not,” Arrieta said. “We’re trying to give the student an immersive experience of what it’s like to exist in a digital currency environment.”

Franks said some students are already familiar with the metaverse and cryptocurrency, and are very excited about this partnership. 

“Then there’s others, who are the majority, who are just trying to sort through what all this means,” Franks said. 

Averett student Morgan Dearing with her parents at the announcement. Photo courtesy of Averett University.

Morgan Dearing, a senior majoring in elementary education at Averett, shared her enthusiasm about this partnership during a rooftop celebration at The Bee Hotel in Danville on Sept. 17. 

Dalrada representatives like Arrieta, Giles and Bonar joined Averett representatives, Danville Mayor Alonzo Jones and city council members at the ceremony. 

“I am so proud of my university in taking these important steps to energy efficiency and leading the way for other universities,” Dearing said at the ceremony. “I can’t wait to see a digital twin set up or maybe put on AI glasses to see places that I wouldn’t have access to. Your investments will make a huge impact on me and other future Averett students.”

While Dalrada has committed to creating a metaverse and digital currency for Averett, a lot of the other digital possibilities are yet to be discovered. 

“This is very experimental,” Jones said. “What better place to experiment than on a college campus?”

Arrieta said the physical changes to campus, like the heat pumps and new lighting, will likely be around 80% finished by March. The digital work will probably roll out after winter break, maybe around February, he said. 

“Our goal is to pilot [the digital work] right after Christmas break as we enter the spring, and then we have to determine together what we do as next steps,” Arrieta said. “Regardless of what we do as next steps, this will be an experience like none other on this campus, and that’s really our goal.”

Averett University President Tiffany Franks with Dalrada officials. Photo courtesy of Averett University.

Grace Mamon

Grace Mamon is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at grace@cardinalnews.org.