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Warhawk Purcell Pearson wins 2020 WiSys Quick Pitch State Final

June 17, 2020

Written by Jeffrey Pohorski | Photos by Craig Schreiner

University of Wisconsin-Whitewater psychology major Purcell Pearson won the WiSys Quick Pitch State Final on June 17 in a state-wide competition among student researchers from across the UW System.

The research-focused, elevator-style pitch competition focuses on the importance of communicating research to the public. Students had three minutes to present their research to a panel of judges. 

This year’s state final was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

UW-Whitewater students look at high school yearbooks brought to a campus Diversity Forum program by Chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer Kenny Yarbrough. From left are Jessica Aldama, a human resources management major from Algoma, Purcell Pearson, a psychology major from Milwaukee, Destiny Tillman, a sociology major from Milwaukee, Yarbrough, and Jonny Carbajal and Dy'Quan Gipson, both accounting majors from Milwaukee, on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner)

Pearson’s project, “Racial Bias in News Media and its Effects on Black Males’ Self-Image,” seeks to understand how black males perceive they are depicted in news media and whether these perceptions influence their daily lives.

“Growing up I realized that a lot of the information that I would get didn’t really come from peers around me but the news media that depicted the African-American race and males in particular, as fear mongering or used words such as ‘thug’ and ‘predator’ and ‘violence,’ so that made me reflect on who I was as person.”

Pearson realized that previous research was influenced by viewership and racial bias. Researchers dismissed African-American male participant data because they believed it was skewed, due to targeting in the news media against them.

“That’s why I believe it’s important to do the research on the data that they’re throwing away.”

Pearson also believes his research is timely. “Police reform is a topic that is on everyone's mind and so I think research like this could play a key role in police reform whether it be through building relationship events in order to break this subconscious prejudice or through different word associations that we teach our law enforcement agency to start using.”

As a leader in the campus Black Student Union, Pearson created a campus police officer liaison position to represent concerns of black students.

Purcell Pearson, a psychology major from Milwaukee, was one of the students who met with regents during a business lunch in the Hamilton Room of the University Center on Dec. 5, 2019. UW-Whitewater students and staff took an active part in hosting and participating in the December meeting of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents on Dec. 5-6, 2019, on the UW-Whitewater campus. (UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner)

“Additionally, I want to help the way African American males view themselves.

If you start to break down some of the stereotypes and break down some of the challenges and barriers to African-American males being successful in society, you might start to create different outcomes for these males.”

Participating in UW-Whitewater’s Undergraduate Research Program has taught Pearson problem solving and critical thinking skills. He’s gained a passion for academic studies because of the freedom to choose a research topic he liked and that applied to his everyday life.

Carolyn Morgan, professor of psychology and department chairperson, became Pearson’s academic advisor and provided access to a multitude of helpful resources.

From left, UW-Whitewater juniors Abraham Alvarez and Purcell Pearson and sophomore Brian Diggs play volleyball with freshmen in the King/Chavez Scholar program. Alvarez is a teacher-counsellor for the students. A little rain didn't dampen the spirits at a picnic for King/Chavez Scholars at Starin Park on Tuesday, August 28, 2018. The program, in its 20th year, prepares students for the transition from high school to college with a week of orientation, field trips and fun. (UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner)

Pearson, from Milwaukee, plans to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology and open up a mental health practice in an impoverished, multicultural neighborhood. Morgan encouraged him to be look into the McNair Scholars program. This program prepares undergraduate students who have demonstrated strong academic potential for doctoral study and supports diversity among researchers and scholars.

Dan Stalder, professor of psychology, is Pearson’s technical mentor and helps him with data collection, background information and statistical measurements and analysis.

“Having both professors is like having a one-two punch. Carolyn Morgan helping me with concepts and Dan Stalder helping with the analytical data collection.

Pearson believes researchers have to be good communicators. “You need to get your message across to a variety of audiences,” he said. “Research is supposed to be for everybody. Communicating research helps you become more engaged in the world and be ready to talk about anything with anybody.” 

“I see my research playing out in the real world. To be chosen as a finalist is giving me a chance to continue to tell people why this research is important.”

It was a great day for psychology major Purcell Pearson, center, as homecoming royalty and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, whose members won the James R. Connor Spirit Cup, presented by UW-Whitewater Chancellor Dwight C. Watson. Homecoming week at UW-Whitewater culminated with a parade, concert and football game at Perkins Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. The Warhawks defeated UW-Platteville 21-14. (UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner)