With some impressive research under her belt before she heads off to Bucknell University, Kathleen O’Brien ’11 earned a second place award for a poster presentation at the American Spinal Injury Association’s International Conference on Spinal Cord Medicine & Rehabilitation, held in Washington, D.C., in June. At the conference, poster presentations are recognized for excellence by a research committee and are based on subject matter, clarity and visual presentation. Cash prizes are awarded.
At the poster presentation, O’Brien discussed research to assess peak force as a wheelchair is propelled over obstacles during a wheelchair skills test. The work to aid individuals with spinal cord injuries, was part of O’Brien’s senior year Catalyst project. Catalyst, a semester-long science elective at Gilmour, connects students with an externship and shows them how science takes shape as they work alongside a scientist. O’Brien worked with Gilmour parent Jennifer Nagy, project manager for SCI Model Systems Grant at MetroHealth Medical Center.
The research team studied 23 individuals with spinal cord injuries who are full-time manual wheelchair users. They used a system called SmartWheel to analyze manual wheelchair use during each push while subjects negotiated standardized obstacles over tile, carpet, soft surfaces, ramps and curbs.
“I helped run the computer while the subjects were put through different tests with the SmartWheel attached to their wheelchair,” O’Brien says. “I then ran the data analysis through software on the computer.”
O’Brien spent four to five hours each week collecting and analyzing data and helping to evaluate results. At the conclusion, she formally presented research findings to peers and mentors in an exhibition at Gilmour. “Kathleen did outstanding work,” says Catalyst director Deanne Nowak.
The Gilmour graduate plans to study economics or math at Bucknell while preparing to attend physical therapy school. She was inducted in the Gilmour Chapter of the Cum Laude Society, which honors scholastic achievement.