Isaiah Morales is developing a virtual reality application that would allow students strapped for cash to explore graduate schools around the world, without ever having to leave their hometowns.

Because VR isn’t widely used beyond the entertainment industry, Morales decided to research ways it could be used to help open opportunities to underrepresented groups such as low-income and first-generation students that often struggle to get access.

A VR headset could make all the difference, he says.

Morales is a fourth-year student finishing his undergraduate studies in digital media with a minor in computer science. He is also a McNair Scholar. To complete his research, entitled Project VictoRy, he collects footage from universities and colleges to build an immersive experience. He has already developed a virtual tour of the Michigan State University grounds. Overall, the hope is to encourage underrepresented groups to envision themselves in a higher education atmosphere.

Morales’ cutting-edge research is in the field of human-computer interaction, which is ever-evolving. VR is typically used in video games or museum experiences; what is less studied is its potential use in physical therapy and in aiding those with visual disabilities.

As of yet, there is very little empirical research regarding the cognitive effects of virtual reality, he says.  Morales showcases his work at conferences and networking events because he believes his research can help shape the uses of VR tools beyond video games.

He says his work has helped him appreciate the synergy between research and art because the mental hurdles to be overcome are the same.

“Art in and of itself requires repetition to present a perfected final outcome,” Morales says. “Only in figuring out how best to depict something can a great final product come about.” In research the mental faculties and processes are identical. Repetition is key to secure useful answers to questions. Both researchers and artists seek to present new discoveries and one’s own hard work.

Morales is applying to doctoral programs in human-computer interaction and intends to continue researching virtual reality tools. He will present his research during Student Research Week March 30-April 3.