Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) researchers with expertise in fields ranging from psychology to architectural engineering will use a $199,999 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study how the novel coronavirus global pandemic is affecting stress in college students and their ability to learn in remote settings.
The research is notable because it will be done during a real pandemic and gather data about the real strains felt by students, said Shichao Liu, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, who is the principal investigator of the one-year project.
“We have to do this research now, because the conditions are ephemeral, and our students are stressed during this critical time,” Liu said. “We can’t do this research at another time or simulate a pandemic in a laboratory.”
The NSF awarded the grant through its Rapid Response Research (RAPID) process, which focuses on proposed projects that need quick access to data and resources, and research that responds to disasters and unanticipated events.
Co-PIs on the grant are Soroush Farzin Moghadam, assistant teaching professor of architectural engineering; Angela Rodriguez, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience; Steven Van Dessel, associate professor of architectural engineering; and Jacob Whitehill, assistant professor of computer science and of learning sciences and technologies. Two PhD candidates and two WPI undergraduates will be part of the research team, which will work remotely and via virtual meetings.
“This project will provide insights into how college students are coping with a purely distance-learning format, without immediate contact with or support from their peers or professors,” Whitehill said. “It will shed light into how students' emotional trajectories and academic outcomes are affected by the short- and long-term effects of the novel coronavirus.”