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Student Research

Discovery. Innovation. Commitment. What does research mean to you?

For our students, research is all of those things and more. Research means probing the unknown and following the thread of curiosity. It means hitting dead-ends and discovering new paths. It means developing deep relationships with scholars and mastering new technology. No matter your chosen field of study, all students benefit from the skills gained during the research process.

Find a research opportunity

Student Research Highlight: Vertically Integrated Projects

Vertically Integrated Projects provide undergraduate students the opportunity to participate in course-based, multiyear, multidisciplinary, team-based projects under the guidance of faculty and graduate students.

VIP teams always welcome enthusiastic students who want to learn and do new things. Interested students are strongly encouraged to contact the team advisers of all the teams they are interested in.

lines of code on a computer screen

PIs: Jason Arnold, Ph.D., and Milos Manic, Ph.D.

Research: The AI Governance VIP is a multidisciplinary group of researchers who will investigate the social, political, and economic implications of artificial intelligence (AI), develop governance frameworks to ensure beneficial AI, and create technologies to empower democratic citizens during and after the transition to transformational AI. The team of faculty and students will publish papers and create technology products, with an initial focus on: machine-enabled deception and deception detection; policy approaches in the US, EU, and China; government transparency and accountability; populist-led backlashes; public opinion, participation, and policymaking; as well as AI governance issues more generally.

a shadow of a hand in front of a globe

PIs: Gabriela Leon-Perez, Ph.D., and Daniel Morales, Ph.D.

Research: This project seeks to further the archival history of Latinos in Virginia by documenting their migration and integration experiences in a state that has historically been defined by white-Black relations. Specifically, the Latino Virginia Project will collect oral history interviews with Latino residents of Virginia to chronicle their migration history, successes, challenges, and contributions. Oral histories provide a fantastic opportunity to document recent immigration into the state, gathering rich stories of members of society who are usually left out of the historical record.

a stethoscope, keyboard and roll of medical tape sitting on a white table

PIs: Christine Cynn, Ph.D.Susan Bodnar-Deren, Ph.D.; Mary Boyes; Nancy Jallo, Ph.D.; Maggie Goddard, Ph.D.; Daniel Sunshine, Ph.D. and Michael Dickinson, Ph.D.

Research: For this project, the Humanities Research Center’s Health Humanities Lab proposes to build on existing collaborations between the Lab, the VCU Office of Health Equity’s History and Health program, and the Honors College and expand them to encompass the East Marshall Street Well Project, the VCU School of Nursing, and Birth in Color RVA. With support from the Office of Health Equity and the Honors College, from 2022–23, the Health Humanities Lab awarded eight fellowships (7 undergraduate, 1 graduate) to enable students to participate in lab activities, create educational modules on topics related to health equity, obtain mentorship, and present their research at conferences. One group of the students worked on equity issues related to clinical trials, the other on mental health, and each group facilitated a recorded panel with community members, clinicians, and humanities researchers that will be uploaded onto the module.

aerial shot of people walking in a large crosswalk

PIs: Frankie Mastrangelo, Ph.D.; Gina Longo, Ph.D.; Jesse Goldstein, Ph.D.; Susan Bodnar-Deren, Ph.D. and Megan Gough, Ph.D.

Research: This project reflects a department wide effort to transform Sociology into a hub of transdisciplinary, vertically-integrated research at VCU. We are building upon a network of already established student-engaged research labs and projects that provide opportunities for students to gain impactful experience - in terms of research, organizing and professional development - through hands-on participation and mentorship. Between the four sociology and one urban studies faculty centrally involved, we are proposing three distinct VIP labs: 1) Billion Worlds Lab (also connected to the Environmental Humanities Lab @ HRC) is dedicated to social justice oriented scholarship 8-10 students each year; 2) Digital Sociology Lab is dedicated to producing and disseminating rigorous research on the digital to inform policies, programs, and theories that will combat digital divides, digital inequalities, and their effects in the Richmond-area, the state of Virginia, and the broader global community. (Mastrangelo, Longo) 3-6 students each year; 3) Reparative Land Justice Initiative is a community-led participatory research project that explores and supports Black Food Sovereignty networks in Richmond, Va. (Bodnar-Deren, Gough, Goldstein) 3-6 students each year. 

image of a gavel against a white backdrop

PIs: Sarah Jane Brubaker, Ph.D., and Jessica Trisko Darden, Ph.D.

Research: Through this project, students will analyze the social, legal, and political challenges children who participate in violence face in justice systems and in reintegrating into society, in the United States and in other countries. As youths studying youths, VCU students will be empowered with knowledge and skills to pursue careers in a variety of fields including: Law; Public Service; Community/Non-Profit Organizations; Criminal Justice; Advocacy; and Data Analysis. We expect between 5 and 15 unique undergraduate students and 2 to 3 graduate students to participate in the VIP over the two years of funding. Our VIP will teach students how to employ qualitative and quantitative analysis using multiple software and programming platforms including NVivo, Python, and R. 

Funding for your research

You have the motivation, creative energy and ideas. We want to help you make it real with funding and scholarships. Learn more.

Students in CHS are eligible to apply for numerous scholarship opportunities that support research and experiential learning activities.

Student Research Stories

Andy Shar

Finding a 3D printable ink that conducts electricity, yet is strong, flexible and stretchable, has been a goal of materials scientists around the world since 3D printing began, says Daeha Joung, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Physics.

So last year, when Andy Shar came into his lab eager to look for the solution, Joung was apprehensive but gave Shar a chance. And he is grateful he did.

“I was trying to find that ink myself,” Joung said. “But somehow, Andy discovered the recipe.”

The discovery has opened up new opportunities for Shar, who is majoring in biology and minoring in religious studies in the School of World Studies. Shar, a member of the Honors College, has been working with Joung and his research team through the VCU Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Read more about Andy's research.

Erika Misseri

When Erika Misseri began studying campaign finances for Richmond’s 2020 City Council and mayoral elections as part of a lobbying class at Virginia Commonwealth University, she and a classmate created a Google Doc that developed into a complex web of information on corporations, donations and votes – like newspaper clippings on a bulletin board held together with string, Misseri said.

As she became more engrossed in the topic, she felt a desire to share the findings so others could be informed as they prepared to vote in local elections.

“I think the more that I realized how connected money and politics are, the more that it just makes you feel like there’s something that has to be done,” Misseri said. “And I feel like one of the best ways to keep people accountable is to follow the money. Especially in politics, it’s following the money and making sure that elected officials are representing people the way that they are supposed to be – the way that we’ve elected them to.” Read more about Erika's research.

Anubhav Thapaliya

Biology major Anubhav Thapaliya knows a lot about zebrafish. After all, he spent his entire junior year as a research assistant in the lab of Erich Damm, Ph.D., investigating the role that specific genes play in zebrafish development and blood stem cell generation.

Thapaliya studied the role of two different genes — nrf2a and Dera — in red blood stem cell and zebrafish development. Using the zebrafish in the study of red blood stem cell development can segue into other research models, he said.

“If you look at the bigger picture, it will help with stem cell development,” he said. “It is integral to biomedical research. We can understand how we can advance bone marrow transplantation. It’s important to understand genes and the factors that come into play.” Read more about Anubhav's research.

Vanessa Olazabal

Vanessa Olazabal’s goal of becoming a child psychologist gained momentum after she completed a research project with Chelsea Williams, Ph.D., director of the EMPOWER Youth Lab in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Psychology

As part of VCU GREAT - the Guided Research Experience and Applied Training Program - undergraduates work over the summer with faculty mentors conducting behavioral sciences research. 

Olazabal’s project focused on whether Latine college students’ ethnic-racial identity affirmation before the pandemic was associated with relationship quality with friends and romantic partners at the onset of the pandemic and, in turn, anxiety symptoms and alcohol use. She analyzed data from Spit for Science, an initiative that emails all first-year VCU students at the start of the academic year and invites them to take a survey about their personality, behavior, experiences and more. Participants are asked to fill out follow-up surveys throughout their time at VCU, and in some cases to provide a DNA sample. Read more about Vanessa's research