School of Health Sciences hosts first Global Engagement and Research Forum

Doctor of Physical Therapy, Master of Physician Assistant Studies, and undergraduate engineering students shared research during the first-ever Global Engagement and Research Forum at the Great Hall.

Health sciences and engineering students presented their results from months of research during the first Global Engagement and Research Forum on Tuesday.

The forum welcomed the campus community to the Great Hall at Global Commons to hear from Doctor of Physical Therapy, Master of Physician Assistant Studies and undergraduate engineering students about a wide range of topics. The gathering was an opportunity to showcase the results of collaborations across Elon’s campus, as well as the engaging experiences students have learned from while studying abroad.

“It’s such a great opportunity,” said Rebecca Chisholm DPT ’21, who researched the comparisons between concussion symptoms in older adult populations and the severity of concussion symptoms in the adolescent athletic population. Chisholm was one of dozens of presenters at the forum, which attracted hundreds of spectators.

Krista Nunn DPT ’21 and Natalie Atwood DPT ’21 focused their research on Parkinson’s disease and how targeted physical therapy approaches could have positive impacts on a patient’s balance and gait initiation. The research was centered on 12 weeks of individualized physical therapy for participants with Parkinson’s.

Jim Pyles of Burlington, North Carolina, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2013 and participated in the study. Pyles, who also attended the forum, says he struggled with movement in his right arm and leg before undergoing 12 weeks of physical therapy for the research project.

“I thoroughly enjoyed it and support the research 100 percent because it truly helped me,” Pyles said.

The improvements Pyles experienced aligned with the findings of Nunn and Atwood’s research, which showed an overall improvement of balance and stepping gait among participants with Parkinson’s disease. Nunn and Atwood say the opportunity to participate in this type of research has been rewarding.

“That was my favorite part about doing this research project because it makes it more meaningful,” Atwood said. “There’s a why behind the why. We’re doing the research, and it’s meant to help people.”

Max Wilmot, a second-year Elon PA candidate, presents research at the Global Engagement and Research Forum.

Second-year Elon PA candidates Evelyn Martinez and Max Wilmot presented research they conducted during their Global Learning Opportunities (GLO) experience. Martinez and Wilmot were part of a group that traveled to Belize for a four-week elective rotation where they worked with an infectious disease doctor and dermatologist, researching safe and cost-effective solutions to cure warts appearing on patients’ hands. The two say traveling to remote villages and working with medical professionals to learn about treating patients with limited resources gave them new perspective.

“It was very eye-opening, in terms of getting to practice medicine in a third-world country and also in a way that’s not just in a clinic was very interesting,” Wilmot said.

The overarching theme of the Global Engagement and Research Forum was collaboration. Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy Education Mary Kay Hannah, who organized the forum, said it was the first time Elon PA and DPT students and School of Human Services faculty had worked together on such an event.

“What makes this year different is that we’ve taken the two differently formatted presentations, which have been held at the Francis Health Sciences Center and brought them together for one big celebration,” she said to the crowd gathered in the Great Hall Tuesday.

That collaboration also included Elon’s undergraduate engineering students. The group partnered with the Department of Physical Therapy for a service-learning course EGR 221: Engineering Design for Service. Taught by Associate Professor of Engineering Sirena Hargrove-Leak, with guest lectures by Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Education Paula DiBiasio, the course allowed students to create devices that helped people in the community with real-world problems. For instance, William Tunis ’22 and Harry Masker ’22 showcased a special seat cover they built for a woman with Parkinson’s disease who had trouble standing from a seated position.

A student presents her work at the first-ever Global Engagement and Research Forum.

Becky Neiduski, dean of the School of Health Sciences and professor of health sciences, says events like this year’s forum help raise the profile of the department and the university.

“For me, as the dean of the School of Health Sciences, my question is what will Elon PA and Elon PT be known for,” Neiduski asked. “These are the cornerstones of how we build our brand and attract new students, our alumni, our current students, our community clinicians, to come to Elon and be part of the health sciences experiences. So, this type of venue affords us those opportunities.”

The forum was part of a series of special events for the School of Health Sciences. Tuesday’s events also included a lecture by Corey Simon, assistant professor at the Duke School of Medicine, and Katie Butera, a physical therapist from the University of Florida. The two discussed movement-evoked pain and its impacts on the human experience. They taught audiences how to measure movement-evoked pain and physical function, as well as ways to provide early interventions for both.

The week will conclude with the Doctor of Physical Therapy Commencement ceremony Saturday, Dec. 7, at McCrary Theatre.