I am an undergraduate researcher working for VAR Lab under a grant that is allowing me to be paid to do public relations research that will later be used to develop a public relations campaign. This research is being conducted for a majority of the summer of 2020 under the Penn State Behrend 2020 Undergraduate Student Summer Remote Research Grant. Research on the target audience for a public relations (PR) campaign is necessary and will create an interdisciplinary research space that will, as a result, enable the lab to increase public support and awareness within Penn State and the community. It is evident that public relations campaigns centered on outreach and promotion needs implementing. The initial research and data gathering seeks to find what audience would be most receptive to interact with the lab to ensure that future dissemination of information originating from the lab is done both efficiently and with optimal impact. This is being done by reaching targeted audiences using a variety of communication channels; interactions will then be evaluated based on two-way communication. Using the data gained from this research, the anticipated outcome will enable the VAR Lab to establish what public relations methods work best in furthering the lab’s goals and expectations. The data obtained from this study will allow for replication, accounting for the minor changes that come with progress and will ensure future outgoing communications from the lab will be done so in the most effective manner.

In the most basic manor this research can be broken down into three parts: (1) Evaluating the promotional feasibility of LiDAR services among local, businesses, organizations, and industry partners, (2) Building a deeper understanding of the implications of VR/AR (Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality) technology and the fields in which research is necessary so that a campaign targeted towards faculty to use the lab for research can be built, and (3) Building a website that clearly explains the functions and goals of the lab, as well as how students, faculty members, community or industry partners, etc. can become involved.

The primary task of my research was to Evaluate the Promotional Feasibility of LiDAR services among local businesses and organizations.  This was done by surveying these businesses and organizations to find, their prior understanding of LiDAR technology, their opinion on how useful it would be to their organization and their willingness to pay for LiDAR services. This was a task that required IRB approval because it required human participants to answer survey questions. This took a significant amount of time to draft, revise, submit, get feedback, and re-revise. However, by week 5 I began recruiting potential participants. A list of these potential participants were compiled using online data bases of local businesses. The database I used categorized these businesses into different groups. Having a working understanding of the applications that LiDAR might have, I put businesses on the list of potential participants to contact that were in categories that might have use for LiDAR services. Using this technique, the list was 170 potential participants long. These participants were contacted via phone or email with a short message that: introduced myself as an undergraduate researcher at Penn State Behrend, briefly described the study, and offered the potential participant an opportunity to be a part of the study. If they agreed to participate in the study, a link to the survey to the study on Qualtrics was sent to them. This ensured that their answers were kept encrypted, password protected, and confidential. The nature of these questions sought to discover the knowledge participants had of LiDAR technology, how useful it would be to their organization, and how willing their organization would be to pay for the services. This study is currently ongoing but the unfinalized data is showing that most participants are slightly knowledgeable about LiDAR, think it is moderately useful to their organization, and slightly unwilling to pay for LiDAR Services. Although this data may sound discouraging to a successful LiDAR public relations campaign, in actuality there are several important implications. First, any promotional content made for LiDAR must clearly articulate its uses and usefulness.  For instance, LiDAR has been historically known to be used for terrain mapping in airplanes. With improvement to the technology it has gained new uses such as being able to map more detailed areas such as a building or room. These new capabilities being showcased will be crucial in helping potential users understand the usefulness of LiDAR. Secondly, the campaign must showcase what companies are using LiDAR and for what purposes. It seems that even though some businesses see it as useful, they are unwilling to pay for it. This is not unexpected as it is seen in many new technologies that have useful applications but have not yet become an industry standard. For instance, when the personal computer was developed by Apple, many technology companies thought it was interesting but were not willing to take the risk and purchase them for their company. Now personal computers are an essential part of the workforce. Using this preliminary research on the promotional feasibility of LiDAR services a more effective public relations campaign will be built in the fall of 2020.

The second part of the research is building a deeper understanding of the implications that VR has for a variety of purposes and the gaps in understanding that provide for potential research topics within the lab. Having this understanding helps maximize the potential of the lab for faculty research. As of right now Dr. Shelton and another faculty affiliate, Jasper Sachsenmeier, are the only ones with plans to do original research within the lab. With the valuable resources that VAR Lab has, there is potential for more research to be done by other faculty. Through compiling articles and doing literature reviews in Mendeley, I have been able to gain this deeper understanding of potential research that is able to be done in the lab. Using this knowledge, I will be able to build out my public relations campaign to get more faculty involved within the lab. Even before I began building this public relations campaign to recruit faculty to the lab, I was able to introduce my advisor Karrie Bowen to the lab and she agreed to come on as a faculty affiliate. Karrie is a communication teacher at Behrend with a focus on public relations and human relations. She is a valuable asset to the lab as the lab is still in its infancy and shaping the public perception of a new organization can be vital to its success. In a similar manner I hope to get more faculty involved in the lab through the execution of my public relations campaign.

The third part of my research was building a website for the lab. A lot of news about the lab is spread by word of mouth, but for those seeking to learn more about the lab the website is there to serve that purpose. The website serves as a central landing page that concisely explains the purposes, goals, and future plans of the lab. Using WordPress, I set the website up in such a fashion that it can be continually updated by all lab members with access. Members can create blog like posts that share successes and updates within the lab. Using tags, theses posts are categorized to different pages of the website. As for the more permanent parts of the website I included the following pages: LiDAR, Virtual reality, Augmented reality, Collaborate with us, Become a faculty affiliate, Our work, Meet the team, and Accomplishments.

The work I do at VAR Lab has been invaluable to my undergraduate experience. Not only has it given me experience in the field of public relations outside of the classroom context, but it has also helped me become an independent worker. In contrast to most internships where an intern is assigned specific tasks and told what to do by a supervisor, I wrote a grant proposal outlining what I wanted to do and what I thought would be most beneficial to my education and the goals of the lab. This proposal was then critically examined by administrative faculty of the college for scholarly merit and academic worth. In addition to this, the grant was also competitive, so I had to compete against other applicants for acceptance. This extensive process ensured that I had the oversite of someone more experienced then I, similar to how a supervisor would oversee an intern, however, it was not constricting as an internship because it allowed me to choose work that was meaningful to me as well as the lab.