Applications are currently open and will be due on February 2, 2020. 


The Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) offers a 10-week summer research program for undergraduates in interactive virtual experiences. A multidisciplinary research institute affiliated with the University of Southern California, the ICT was established in 1999 to combine leading academic researchers in computing with the creative talents of Hollywood and the video game industry. Having grown to encompass over 130 faculty, staff, and students in a diverse array of fields, the ICT represents a unique interdisciplinary community brought together with a core unifying mission: advancing the state-of-the-art for creating virtual experiences so compelling that people will react as if they were real.

Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of ICT research, we welcome applications from students in computer science, as well as many other fields, such as psychology, art/animation, interactive media, linguistics, and communications. Undergraduates will join a team of students, research staff, and faculty in one of several labs focusing on different aspects of interactive virtual experiences. In addition to participating in seminars and social events, students will also prepare a final written report and present their projects to the rest of the institute at the end of the summer.

This Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

ICT also offers another internship program, for both undergraduate and graduate students, which requires a separate application –, view a list of available positions here.

For questions or additional information, please contact

Research Projects

When you apply, we will ask you to rank your top three interests from the research projects listed below. We encourage applicants to explore each mentor’s website to learn more about the individual research activities of each lab.

Natural Language Dialogue Processing

Mentor: David Traum and Ron Artstein
The Natural Language Dialogue Group at ICT is developing artificial intelligence and language technology to allow machines to participate in human-like natural dialogues with people. Systems have a variety of “embodiments”, including virtual humans, robots, recorded video of real people, and voice or chat systems. An REU student will work on creating, extending or evaluating one or more of these systems, analyzing conversational data from these systems, or collecting new data. Specific projects can be chosen or defined by the REU student; examples include technology to allow an agent or robot to understand the context of a conversation, take initiative in conversation, or sustain interaction over multiple encounters. Previous REU students in the group have been lead authors and had their REU projects published in the proceedings of international scientific conferences.

Impact of AI on Users’ Psychology

Mentor: Jonathan Gratch and Gale Lucas
Irresistible pressures are driving the adoption of AI. What impact will this have on us? Will using AI or operating through an autonomous robot, for example, undermine trust, increase risk-taking, reduce vigilance to threats and increase dehumanization of others? This project will examine the psychological impact of such advances. REU mentee will assist by helping to finalize development of agents that vary in level of autonomy (e.g., full AI vs assisted). The mentee will help to run an experiment where the impact of autonomy on users’ psychological factors is tested, as well as analyze the results of this study.

AI and Machine Learning for Intelligent Tutoring Systems

Mentor: Benjamin Nye
This project will explore applications of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to support personalized tutoring and dialog systems such as the Personal Assistant for Life-Long Learning (PAL3). PAL3 is a system for delivering engaging and accessible education via mobile devices. It is designed to provide on-the-job training and support lifelong learning and ongoing assessment. PAL3 helps learners navigate learning resources through an embodied pedagogical agent that acts as a guide and persistent learning record to track what students have done, their level of mastery, and what they need to achieve. The goal of the REU internship will be to expand the repertoire of the system to further enhance learning and engagement. The specific tasks will be determined collaboratively based on research goals and student research interests. Possible topics include work with: (1) models driving the dialog system for PAL3 to support goal-setting, teamwork, or fun/rapport-building; (2) modifying the intelligent tutoring system and how it supports the learner, and (3) statistical analysis, and/or data mining to identify patterns of interactions between human subjects and the intelligent tutoring system.

Virtual Reality Game-Based Rehabilitation

Mentors: Albert “Skip” Rizzo and Chien-Yen (Kevin) Chang
The Medical Virtual Reality (MedVR) group at ICT is devoted to the study and advancement of uses of virtual reality (VR) simulation technology for clinical purposes. The MedVR Lab’s Game-Based Rehab group develops low-cost and home-based VR toolkits for physical therapy. REU interns will work on our Mystic Isle project which allows patients to do rehabilitation by playing a motion game that tracks their movements using a Kinect sensor. Interns will interface with therapists and engineers to convert Mystic Isle into a virtual reality application and help support user-centered trials at the Keck School of Medicine.

Real-Time Rendering for Virtual Humans

Mentors: Hao Li and Kalle Bladin
The Vision and Graphics lab at ICT pursues research and works in production to perform high quality facial scans for Army training and simulations, as well as for VFX studios and game development companies. Research in how machine learning can be used to aid the creation of such datasets using single images is one of the most recent focuses in the lab. This requires large amounts of data; more than can be achieved using only raw light stage scans. We are currently working on a software to aid both in visualization during the production pipeline as well as for producing images as training data for learning algorithms. The goal is a feature rich, real-time renderer which produces highly realistic renderings of humans scanned in the light stage. REU interns will work with lab researchers to develop features in the rendering and data processing pipeline. This includes developing features, and content for a new Unity based rendering software developed in the lab. The internship can also include designing tools for automation of the production capture and data processing pipeline which consists of building high quality virtual human faces for the machine learning database, which may include graphical user interfaces and python scripting. Interns with the right skillset can also research and develop rendering techniques for the new software.

The Sigma Cognitive Architecture

Mentors: Paul S. Rosenbloom, Volkan Ustun
The Cognitive Architecture Research Group at ICT is developing Sigma, a computational hypothesis about the fixed structures underlying a mind, as the basis for constructing human-like, autonomous, social, cognitive (HASC) systems.  Sigma is based on an extension of the elegant but powerful formalism of graphical models that enables combining both statistical/neural and symbolic aspects of intelligence. An REU student will work on developing, applying, analyzing and/or evaluating new intelligent capabilities within such an architectural framework.

Multimodal Human Behavior Understanding

Mentors: Mohammad Soleymani
The Intelligent Human Perception Lab at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies conducts research on automatic human behavior analysis. To model human emotions and behavior, we perform research on multimodal human behavior perception for supporting interaction with virtual humans.  We are seeking REU interns to work on human behavior perception tasks, including the following topics. Mental health assessment, performing research and analysis to advance the state-of-the-art in assisting diagnosis of mental health disorders including depression and PTSD from behavior. Virtual agent behavior generation, performing research in machine learning for virtual human behavior generation including turn-taking, identification of opportunities to provide empathic responses, head nod, engagement detection. REU interns who are interested in these topics should  be comfortable handling data and able to program in python or C#. Prior experience with machine learning tools, e.g., scikit-learn, Keras, PyTorch, is a plus.

Computational Models of Human Behavior for Digital Humans

Mentor: Ari Shapiro
Recent advances in technology have allowed the creation of digital humans that increasingly look more and more like real people, as seen in video games, movies and tech demonstrations. In addition, advances in robotics have led to the creation of humanoid-like robots that can talk, interact and respond to us. Beyond looking real, these artificial constructs must also act in realistic and appropriate ways. To do that, we must first understand how people themselves act and computationally model such behavior so that we can apply those models to digital humans and robots. An REU intern will examine a human behavior phenomena, and assist in developing a model for that behavior. For example, how do people stand together when in small groups? When and how do people adjust the clothing on their bodies for better fit (pulling up pants, adjusting cuffs or collars?) How do people adjust their sitting position during fatigue? How do people’s faces and bodies respond to fatigue? The resulting model will be applied to a virtual/digital human.

Location and Housing

The ICT facility is located in the Playa Vista community of West Los Angeles, about 10 miles west of the main USC campus, and includes a 150-seat theater, game room, and gym. There are numerous restaurants and stores within walking distance, including the Westfield Culver City mall, and the beach is only a 10 minute drive away. The university also provides free shuttle service between the institute and the downtown USC campus.


  • Participate in a unique multidisciplinary community that combines academic research with the creative talents of Hollywood and the video game industry.
  • Work with some of the leading researchers in human-computer interaction, virtual reality, computer graphics, and virtual humans.
  • Receive a total of $6,000 over the ten week program.
  • Receive university housing for the duration of the program, and an additional $1,450 for transportation and meal expenses.
  • Travel will be reimbursed up to $600 for students living 95 miles or more outside of the Los Angeles area.


  • U.S. citizenship or permanent residency is required.
  • Students must be currently enrolled in an undergraduate program.
  • Students must not have completed an undergraduate degree prior to the summer program.

Important Dates

  • Application deadline: February 2, 2020
  • Notification of acceptance begins: February 10, 2020
  • Notification of declined applicants: March 31, 2020
  • Start Date: June 2, 2019
  • End Date: August 7, 2019

How to Apply

Step 1: Application Form

Once available, fill out the online application.  To complete this form, you will need the following:

  • The most recent unofficial transcript from your undergraduate institution (PDF).
  • A one page personal statement (PDF). This may include your research interests and how you came to be interested in them, your previous research experiences, your reasons for wanting to participate in the research at the ICT, and how this participating in this experience might better prepare you to meet your future goals.
  • A ranking of your top three project choices from the list above.
  • The name and email address for a faculty member that will provide your letter of recommendation. A letter request with a customized submission link will be sent automatically when you submit your application form.

Step 2: Recommendation Letter Confirmation

Your application is not complete until we receive a recommendation letter.  We strongly recommend that you follow up directly with your recommender to make sure that the letter is submitted by the application deadline.  You will receive another confirmation automatically when the letter is submitted.  Please note that due to the large number of applicants, we cannot respond directly to email requests for status updates.