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Faculty Focus: Extending Boundaries with Student-Faculty Research
07.03.13 |
Taking a multidisciplinary approach to education makes sense at a liberal arts college, where instilling breadth and depth of thought are central to its mission. But LVC extends this undertaking into the science lab as well, where undergraduates are regularly offered the opportunity not just to learn, but to work with faculty to extend knowledge in their fields—and in fields that may seem unrelated to theirs. “Cross-discipline research simply accelerates discovery,” said Dr. Jennifer Wood Kanupka ’01, assistant professor of education. “Students learn through this process that they can accomplish great things when there are more minds with different focuses or different areas of expertise looking at the problem.”

With students from their respective departments, Dr. Kathryn Oriel, associate professor of physical therapy, and Dr. Cheryl George, co-chair and professor of education, have been collaborating on research projects since Oriel joined the faculty in 2005. They’ve published several papers examining the effect of aerobic exercise on the behavior of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Kanupka has joined the work since George took on the responsibilities of co-chairing both the Education Department and the steering committee that prepared the College’s reaccreditation evaluation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Most recently, Oriel, Kanupka, and a team of student researchers looked at the impact of aquatic exercise on the sleep habits of children with autism, finding that participants fell asleep faster and slept longer after exercise. The team is currently submitting papers reporting the findings to peer-reviewed journals.

Oriel and Kanupka each witnessed significant cross-disciplinary learning among the student researchers, with physical therapy students gaining valuable experience managing the behavior of children with disabilities, and education students learning how to administer adaptive exercise programs. “The two departments complemented each other in the study,” said Kanupka. “It was a very natural process.”

Such collaboration will no doubt pay off for the students in the workplace, George said. “We’re preparing our education majors to go into school systems where most people will have a team-focused approach,” she noted. “Many kids with autism have physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech and language pathologists on their team, so this project gave them an opportunity to have a positive experience with that kind of interaction.”

The same goes for the physical therapy students, added Oriel. “Physical therapists work closely with teachers in school-based settings. It’s our hope that this experience will better prepare them for those interactions, because our goal is ultimately the same—when they graduate, these students are all going to be working with kids with disabilities.”

Last year the research team presented its findings at the convention of the Pennsylvania Council for Exceptional Children in Harrisburg and at the Combined Sections Meeting of the American Physical Therapy Association. The faculty researchers were thrilled at how well the students handled what could have been uncomfortable pressure. “I took two students with me to the Pennsylvania Council for Exceptional Children conference,” Kanupka said. “They had prepared an educational poster, and as we were there, people came up to them and asked about their research, commenting that they hadn’t realized that LVC had a graduate program. The students then explained that they were just sophomores! It was great to see that they could stand up and talk about the information as well as they did.”

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