St. Catherine students earn national recognition for research project

Chi Na Moua '17, Courtney Kirkeide '17, and Nicole Szyszka '17

Chi Na Moua '17, Courtney Kirkeide '17, and Nicole Szyszka '17 will present at the 21st Annual “Posters on the Hill.' Photo by Julie Michener

Three students have earned national recognition for their research project in addition to presenting at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research.

Chi Na Moua '17, Courtney Kirkeide '17, and Nicole Szyszka '17 will present at the 21st Annual “Posters on the Hill,” an extremely competitive event sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research April 25 and 26. Over 300 applications are submitted for the event that takes place on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and only 60 are accepted. The three will be accompanied by Lynda Szymanski, director of the University's Collaborative Undergraduate Research Program.

“The Posters on the Hill application process is arduous, and this team rose to the occasion,” said Szymanski. “They wrote a powerful narrative and crafted reflective, thoughtful personal statements and Dr. Myers wrote a compelling letter of support. This outstanding team will be exceptional ambassadors of St. Catherine University in Washington, D.C.”

The trio collaborated with Biology Professor Marcie Myers on the project, “A novel gait trainer facilitates more natural walking patterns in adults 65 years and older.” Professor Myers, who is also research director of the University’s Women’s Health Integrative Research (WHIR) Center, was approached by an inventor for help to test the effectiveness of a new 4-wheel, pivoting gait training device for elders.

The new device has been designed to “train” walking patterns to be more normal and symmetrical as opposed to other devices on the market – also known as walkers – that tend to impair the walking patterns of those that use them. The student researchers developed their project during the University’ Summer Scholars program and continued their work into the fall semester.

"All three of these women shouldered and ably dispatched responsibilities comparable to what I would expect of graduate students executing dissertation research,” said Myers. “In fact, during the first of our two summer studies, our team worked alongside doctor of physical therapy graduate students, often taking the lead in demonstrating experimental techniques with which they had greater familiarity. Both individually and collectively, Chi Na, Nicole, and Courtney demonstrate the best of what undergraduate researchers can accomplish in collaboration.”

Many of the participants in their study were St. Kate's alumnae who responded to the call with enthusiasm.

“The email was sent out and by the end of the first day there were at least 50,” said Szyszka. “In the preceding days there were a couple hundred.” The researchers also included residents of Carondelet Center on the Sisters of St. Joseph property next door to the St. Catherine campus.

“We have an aging population that is and will hugely impact our society,” said Kirkeide. “We were looking at this device and how it might help this population live independently and be mobile on their own longer.”

Based on the students’ research, the WHIR Center and the gait trainer’s inventor are preparing a National Institute of Health NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) proposal to further study this innovative device.

The trio is leaving early for Washington D.C. so they can join in the national March for Science on Earth Day, April 22.

“I am marching because I never thought I’d be doing research,” said Moua. “When I was given the opportunity it’s opened my eyes to the field and how important it is to our understanding of the world we live in. And being a woman of color and a researcher – this is opening the door for the young generation to see that they can do this too.”

by Julie Michener