Interested in Undergraduate Research? Find it here in CHS

By Sara Pisoni
CHS Contributor

For professors in the College of Health Sciences, they have a luxury some others could only hope for.

They are utilizing their undergraduate students to help with their research.  

Mentorship, experience, and responsibility are just a few things that can be gained by the students. Faculty say the students offer support, new ideas and helping hands.

Chris Fry, PhD, associate professor in Clinical Nutrition and associate director of the Center for Muscle Biology, is currently conducting research on skeletal muscle recovery after an ACL injury. He notes that his student-workers are productive, hardworking and constantly exceeding his expectations.

“It is one of the aspects of my job that I find most engaging — working with motivated, excited students,” he said.

But, he noted, working with students in a research environment is different from a classroom, as it offers the ability to form closer bonds. From freshmen to seniors, there is a role for everyone to contribute vitally to the success of the team.

“It provides a great opportunity for hands-on experience as well as building interprofessional skills in another realm of healthcare,” said senior Human Health Sciences (pre-Physical Therapy track) major Peyton Balawender, who worked with Richard Andreatta, PhD, ASHA Fellow and professor, Communication Sciences and Disorders and the Rehabilitation and Health Sciences PhD Program. He also serves as the Director of Undergraduate Studies for CSD and the Director of Undergraduate Research for the college. 

Tommy Hutchins, a senior Clinical Leadership and Management major involved in undergraduate research, said, “Research has opened my eyes to new experiences and opportunities, united my professional ambitions with my academic curriculum, and introduced me to new friends in the field.”

Hutchins is currently working with Karen Clancy, PhD, MBA, BHS, MT, and assistant professor in Clinical Leadership and Management and Human Health Sciences, as they study burnout of healthcare workers and its impact on quality, safety and patient experience.

Hutchins enjoys it all, and said he is “able to assume a more professional, analytical responsibility as an undergraduate student.” In the future, he said he is excited about his network growth and the connections he will make, as well as his enhanced writing and research skills. Hopefully, he says, it will result in a published journal article.

This is nothing new for those that work with Clancy.

A pair of students she worked with last year, Kelsey Gatton and Annamarie Black, published a study on discharge efficiencies and delays — and it influenced clinical development and public policy at the state level. Another pair of students, Garrett Anspach and Anthony Marceletti, have finished collecting data on “provider burnout and the implementation of electronic health record systems.” They hope to publish their article by the end of the year.

Clancy continues working with undergraduate students over the years because she sees that students “are inquisitive and motivated to participate in meaningful projects.” 

Involvement in undergraduate research as a student can look different for everyone. Whether leading a team, collecting data, processing tissue samples in a lab, or compiling information and writing a report, there is always work to be done.

Kirby Mayer, DPT, PhD, and an assistant professor in Physical Therapy, is studying patient-centered outcomes in the ICU recovery clinic. He mentions that student participation takes their research to another level in all steps of the research process. An added benefit, he says, is the opportunity for students to work with and observe those on the clinical side. Interacting with providers such as physicians, pharmacists, or therapists offers the unique chance to see all sides of healthcare.

And the benefits of undergraduate research extend beyond just undergraduate days.

Balawender is looking forward to graduate school and how research opportunities and positions can tie into her future there.

“Without my undergraduate research experience, I would have never even considered a research assistantship,” she said. “It was wonderful.”