Warhawk Spotlight: Congressman Byrne participates in AUM’s Virtual Avatar Lab demonstration

Congressman Byrne shakes Dr. Carl Stockton's hand.

Ashleigh Hicks | Auburn University at Montgomery | Oct. 20, 2017

Rep. Bradley Byrne sees value, multiple applications in Auburn University at Montgomery’s cutting-edge teaching and training technology, the only one of its kind in the state.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) is convinced Auburn University at Montgomery is home to a technology that is revolutionizing the way Alabama approaches teaching and training for the workforce. Rep. Byrne visited the AUM campus Wednesday, Oct. 18, for a demonstration of the College of Education’s Virtual Avatar Laboratory (VAL), a mixed-reality teaching lab and the only one of its kind in the state. VAL mixes artificial intelligence and human intelligence and  interaction for a dynamic and profound experience practicing and mastering complex interpersonal skills and critical communications.

AUM College of Education Dean Sheila Austin and faculty member and VAL director Dr. Kate Simmons led the demonstration for Rep. Byrne and AUM Chancellor Carl Stockton. Two candidates in AUM’s Instructional Leadership program were on hand to participate in the simulated parent-teacher conference following a student suspension. The students received immediate feedback from faculty about the strategies they used and the choices they made with the parent.

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to see when I walked in,” Byrne said, but after the demonstration, his excitement for the growing applications for the AUM technology in education and workforce development in the state was clear. The congressman, among his committee, subcommittee and caucus work, serves on the House Education & the Workforce Committee. “You know, it’s education and workforce,” said Byrne, emphasizing the pairing. “Alabama needs workforce development like this,” he said, adding, “One of the things we’re lacking in the workforce are soft skills. Young people can use this program to gain work experience. Kids don’t have classes to teach them soft skills.”

Students in other disciplines at AUM are already learning critical skills, with professors blocking out VAL training sessions to teach lessons for crucial conversations in business, healthcare and public safety. Nursing students learn how to manage delivery of healthcare to patients who may be combative due to Alzheimer’s disease. Business students practices business pitches. Counseling students learn to work with clients who have post-traumatic stress disorder. AUM’s VAL simulations may be useful, as well, in improving the communication and social skills of children with autism spectrum disorder and in training the teachers, social workers and behavior therapists who work with them.

Government agencies, the military and businesses have also identified opportunities with VAL. Next week, the U.S. Air Force will bring officer candidates to the lab to train for critical communications.

“The wisdom of education is not in Washington: It’s out here,” said Rep. Byrne, looking around the room. The congressman is a former member of the Alabama State Board of Education and former Chancellor of the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education.

Learn more about the VAL program at AUM at

Auburn University at Montgomery is ranked among the South’s top universities by U.S. News and World Report and is recognized one of the best colleges in the Southeast by The Princeton Review.  AUM is designated as a Military Friendly School and is consistently chosen as the best university in the area. Auburn University at Montgomery provides students with detailed knowledge and hands-on, practical experience, often from professionals in the field.

Learn more about Auburn University at Montgomery at

(Editor’s note: The Warhawk Spotlight features news about people, projects and programs at AUM that illustrate our Core Values. Need a refresher on our Core Values?)

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