Group Director

Benjamin Lok, Ph.D.

I’m a Professor in the Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering Department at the University of Florida and entrepreneur and co-founder of Shadow Health, Inc., an education company. I want to impact our world by improving how people communicate with each other. Did you know we are still using the same tools for hundreds of years in how to prepare people to have high-stakes conversations (such as health care providers talking with patients or teachers talking with students)? My group is leveraging the amazing advances in virtual humans, human-computer interaction, and artificial intelligence to create virtual social experiences that can help teach and train people to have better conversations with conversation partners.

My hobbies include: hockey, triathlons, running, and video games dating back 40 years!


Ph.D. Students

Stephanie Carnell

My dissertation uses virtual humans to improve communication between doctors and patients. I have been inspired by language and how people use it since I was very young, as I have always loved literature and storytelling. Fortunately, my work at VERG has allowed me to combine this passion for language with my other passion, computer science, enabling me to conduct research that is both exciting in a technical sense and in its ability to impact real people for the better.


Fatemeh Tavassoli

I am a PhD Student in Human Centered Computing. My research interests include Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Human Computer interaction. I’d love to use these techniques to help autistic children. As they are naturally attracted to technology, such as robots and screen-based media, we can offer virtual reality  exergames to improve their social behaviors.


Heng Yao

I am a PhD Student in Computer Science. I am interested in exploring how to use virtual patients to improve health professional trainees’ nonverbal communication skills. My research involves around developing embodied conversational agents, emotion recognition and behavior training.


Mohan Zalake

My research involves around developing embodied conversational agents (ECAs). ECAs are computer generated human-like 3-D characters and converse through natural language-style dialogues with humans. I am particularly interested in creating interactive ECAs as an interface to deliver and collect medical information. Although a large population is aware of conversational interfaces like smart home speakers, very few are familiar with ECAs. My research focuses on identifying and understanding user needs of diverse healthcare population to build intuitive and usable ECA interfaces.

I have also developed several virtual reality experiences which demonstrate the applicability of virtual reality in various domains. My interests include virtual reality, natural language processing, machine learning, computer graphics, and human-computer interaction. You can find more about me here.


Jacob Stuart

I am currently a student in the Human-Center Computing Ph.D. program. My interests include Augmented and Virtual Reality. I hope to be able to use these to help improve education. I am currently working on a project where we are creating a simulation for nurses performing triage in an ER after a mass casualty incident. Being a member of the VERG lab has shown me how to focus on what is most important when it comes to making an impact on learning.


Graduate Students

Shrishail Zalake

I am a graduate student in Computer Science at the University of Florida. I am interested in exploring applications of machine learning and Internet of Things (IoT) in the field of Virtual Reality (VR). Using machine learning and IOT, I want to connect virtual world with the physical world.


Yogesh Laxman

I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in Computer Science at the University of Florida. I have three years of work experience in the field of software engineering, coupled with domain expertise in healthcare and digital marketing. I have a keen interest in Virtual and Augmented Reality. I want to work at the intersection of computer graphics and Machine Learning to improve the way people interact with the virtual world.


Undergraduate Students

Samantha Garcia

I am an undergraduate student interested in Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence. I am working on a way to enhance awareness of dyslexia through simulation in a virtual environment.


Adina Friedman

I am an undergrad student from Southwestern University in Geroge town TX. I am interested in developing interfaces that are intuitive and easy to understand for emergency applications.


Ileri Akinnola

I am an undergrad student from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I am interested in mixing together aspects of computer science and psychology, more specifically, I am interested in making AI more human, using concepts learned from my psych minor.