On Founders Day, augmented reality historic activations explore Northeastern’s past, present and future

An augmented reality activation at Krentzman Quad on Northeastern’s Boston campus let people glimpse the university’s history as an automotive school at the turn of the 20th century. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Northeastern University’s past, present and future collided on Tuesday as students walked through 125 years of history using augmented reality activations as part of Founders Day and Northeastern’s 125th birthday celebration.

The activations, created in partnership with Hoverlay, served as a portal to iconic parts of Northeastern history, from its time as an automotive school to its place in Major League Baseball history. 

By scanning a QR code displayed on a series of red, black and white obelisks sprinkled throughout Northeastern’s Boston campus, students, faculty and staff could hang out with iconic MLB pitcher Cy Young, hear the Northeastern Evening Institute’s automotive school advertising jingle and revisit the university’s athletic triumphs.

An activation at Krentzman Quad provided a window into the university’s history as an automotive school at the turn of the 20th century. In 1903, during America’s automotive revolution, the Northeastern Evening Institute jump-started courses in automotive engineering, repair and sales, as well as upholstery restoration and even driving lessons for aspiring chauffeurs. With state-of-the-art equipment, Northeastern saw 2,000 graduates come through its automotive school annually, including many women.

In addition to using AR on their phone, passersby could take photos with a beautiful restored antique car or step up to view the AR activation through a display evoking an early 20th-century camera. 

For John O’Connell, a freshman mechanical engineering and physics student, the experience was a glimpse into a slice of Northeastern history he had never heard of before.

“In high school, I did a little project on Northeastern on the Evening Institute and younger men, but I didn’t know too much about this history,” O’Connell said.

“It’s pretty cool, especially because my mom went here, and she’s said it wasn’t what it is now –– it’s just kept getting better and better,” O’Connell added. “It’s expanding and developing and getting even better. It’s really cool to be a part of that.”

Meanwhile, the activation at Churchill Quad brought the first modern World Series back to life through historic photographs and documents. Previously a circus lot bound by rail yards, the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds, now Churchill Quad, played host to the 1903 World Series between the Boston Americans –– now the Red Sox –– and Pittsburgh Pirates. 

The Americans, led by pitcher and future Hall of Famer Cy Young, won the series five games to three –– despite players having to duck and weave through obstacles like rough sand patches on the field. By standing in one particular spot, the activation put 2023 viewers in the place where 1903 viewers would have been if they were watching the game behind home plate.

A third AR activation along the pathway leading from Centennial Common to West Village Quad brought together 125 years of campus life, from a recreation of Punter’s Pub to iconic athletic victories. Similarly, an exhibition spanning the ISEC pedestrian bridge charted Northeastern’s journey from 1899 to the present, literally and metaphorically. Leading from the older parts of campus to more recent additions like ISEC and the brand new EXP building, the activation and exhibition connected Northeastern’s past, present and future.

Jhumi Jain, a regulatory affairs graduate student, said learning more about the history of Northeastern helped her feel like she was more than just one student and part of a centuries-spanning community.

“I feel proud of being part of the legacy that Northeastern has,” Jain said.

Cody Mello-Klein is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at c.mello-klein@northeastern.edu. Follow him on Twitter @Proelectioneer.