Merrillville-based NiSource, the parent company of the utility NIPSCO and Columbia Gas, offered Purdue University Northwest a $100,000 grant to fund research into first-responder and workplace safety.
The university’s Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation in Hammond will use virtual reality training to train workers and first responders on how to handle any issues with its power lines, pipelines or power plants.
“NiSource’s generosity amplifies educational and research opportunities for our students, while also helping communities and companies to be safer and more productive,” Purdue University Northwest Dean of Engineering and Sciences Kenneth Holford said.
The grant enhances the relationship between PNW and the electric and natural gas utility.
CIVS Director Chenn Zhou has spearheaded the virtual training with many local employers, especially in the steel industry.
“Our interactions and collaborations with NiSource and NIPSCO professionals have always been very perceptive and forward-looking,” Zhou said.
“Our past successes paved the way for our continuing collaboration. Moving forward, this grant greatly increases our capacity to make greater economic and educational impacts together, while at the same time making people safer.”
Employers say the computer simulations give employees a more realistic sense of what they’ll encounter on the job.
“Virtual reality training gets employees’ hearts pumping and mimics what they’ll see in real life; more than what classroom learning offers alone,” said Dave Monte, NiSource senior vice president, safety, environmental, engineering and training.
“I’m excited to work more closely with Purdue University Northwest and its students, and that we have this expertise and technology access right here in Northwest Indiana.”