Emma Carlson, Contributing Writer
VCU has granted half a million dollars to support unique research endeavors of its faculty this year through the annual Presidential Research Quest Fund (PeRQ).
The PeRQ offers financial support to select research projects from both the Monroe Park and MCV campuses every year, according to the PeRQ website.
This year, the PeRQ announced 18 projects in fields such as business, education and pharmacy were receiving a total $512,000 to assist in their research. The fund seeks to encourage faculty scholarship as all faculty who receive approval from the dean of their college are eligible to apply, according to the PeRQ website.
One of the Quest Fund projects to receive funding is being conducted by Hayley Cleary, a criminal justice and public policy professor at VCU. Cleary holds a doctorate in developmental psychology and is studying how young people react when placed into a police interrogation room through a virtual reality headset.
“I’m hoping to use virtual reality to have youth experience interrogation, and we can learn more about how they experience coercion,” Cleary said.
Cleary’s research will involve placing an adolescent in virtual reality. An adult sitting next to the adolescent will act as a police officer interrogating the adolescent. The VR headset will help Cleary study how the participants react in real time to a scenario that often happens behind closed doors.
Policing in the U.S. has a history of physical coercion, which was eventually outlawed, according to Cleary. Police then shifted to psychological manipulation, which Cleary described as “too effective,” and often resulted in false confessions.
Cleary said the research also focuses on the systematic discrimination faced by youth of color in interrogation settings with the goal of better educating police on interrogation mechanisms and implicit bias awareness.
“There’s this widely held stereotype that associates people of color, especially Black people, with criminality,” Cleary said. “I’m hoping to test whether youth of color, who are already overrepresented in the justice system, face additional disadvantage.”
The PeRQ began in 2014 and has produced over 200 peer-reviewed papers and at least five patents, according to a VCU News article.
“The 2021 Quest fund recipients represent a diversity of disciplines,” VCU President Michael Rao stated in the article. “Although vastly different, each research project has the common goal of improving the human condition.”
The PeRQ has specific criteria which determines what projects will receive funding. These include the project’s intellectual merit, potential for copyrights or patents, degree of campus collaboration and external funding, according to an email from A.J. Hostetler, vice president of the VCU Office of Research and Innovation.
Adam Blandin is an economics professor at VCU. Blandin was inspired to research remote work after having experienced working from home with his wife and two year old. His research is titled “Remote Work, Geographic Mobility, and the Long-Run Economic Impact of COVID-19.” The project is aimed at understanding the lasting effects of remote working due to the pandemic, according to Blandin.
“One of the main things that determines where people live is their work,” Blandin said. “In that kind of world where people are untethered to their jobs, the structure of cities and the structure of the U.S. could look totally different.”
Blandin’s work began with a previous survey through partnering with his co-author at Arizona State University and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas for extramural funding. The funds from the PeRQ award will help him develop this current project as a more relevant labor survey regarding remote work.
Blandin’s research involved a new labor market survey different from others. Standard government labor market surveys do not include questions about working from home, because it was not previously common, according to Blandin. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, Blandin stated around 15% of workdays were done from home. During the summer of 2020, work from home increased to around 40% of workdays.
“It looks more and more like a lot of the increase in work from home is going to remain,” Blandin said. “So that could have a lot of important and interesting implications that we want to understand.”
Blandin said he hopes his research will provide important information for future generations of researchers trying to understand the economic impacts of COVID-19.
“We’re seeing a once in a lifetime change in this relationship between a worker and their workplace,” Blandin said. “We want to take the first step in understanding all those spillover effects.”
Although undergraduate students are ineligible to apply for PeRQ awards themselves, there are potential opportunities to be mentored by the Quest Fund awardees, according to Hostetler. Students can also visit https://provost.vcu.edu/initiatives/urop/ for more research opportunities.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated there were two adolescent actors placed in virtual reality. There is only one adolescent actor. An adult portrays the police officer and is not placed in virtual reality. A.J. Hostetler was also incorrectly referred to as communications director for the VCU Office of Research and Innovation. Hostetler is the Vice President of the VCU Office of Research and Innovation.