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Summer Research Fellowships

Summer Research Fellowships

Anna Young, Rebekah Roby, Susan Ghodrat, and Jeff Petraco are VCU School of Nursing students participating in the UROP 2014 Summer Fellowship program.

What do studies on fibromyalgia, sickle cell disease, low back pain, and cardiovascular health have in common? These topics are being studied by four School of Nursing students selected for the 2014 VCU Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) Summer Fellowship program. Susan Ghodrat, Jeff Petraco, Rebekah Roby, and Anna Young were among 33 students selected across the University to participate in the program.

Their selection represents more than a 50% award rate for the School of Nursing, which is an excellent outcome for any school, according to the VCU Office of Research. The students will work with nursing faculty who have collected data in the students’ field of study. The faculty will serve as their mentors, working with them throughout the summer as the students develop and execute their own research. They will present their findings at the VCU Undergraduate Symposium/Poster Day in spring 2015.

In addition to working with faculty, UROP Fellowship participants receive a $1,500 cash stipend to defer the costs of their research. This year marks a record number of applicants and the first time program has been opened to accelerated B.S. nursing program students, which are students who already have a bachelor’s degree in a discipline other than nursing.

Meet the School of Nursing students who were selected for this competitive research program:

Susan Ghodrat

Ghodrat, a senior Honors College student in the traditional B.S. nursing program, first learned of the research program when a former UROP Summer Fellowship participant visited Ghodrat’s class to talk about her experience. Ghodrat had always fostered a passion for writing and felt like this opportunity would allow her to combine her love of writing and health sciences. During the UROP review process, Ghodrat’s research was identified as a strong project for the Undergraduate Fellowship for Community Engaged and Translational Research (CE/CCTR) because of her focus on community engaged research. Ghodrat was one of only three participants granted the CE/CCTR Fellowship after a final review by the VCU Division of Community Engagement.

Ghodrat is working with Jo Robins, Ph.D., RN, ANP-BC, AHN-C, HTP, assistant professor in the Department of Family and Community Health Nursing, on a research project, titled “Exploring the Relationships between Mindfulness and Biobehavioral Factors Associated with Health Outcomes in Women."

"The science of how mindfulness affects physiology and ultimately health and health outcomes is becoming a rich evidence base that will inform clinical practice,” said Robins. “This is a very exciting project that Susan is passionate about, especially since she uses mindfulness practices in her own life to navigate challenges as they arise"

Ghodrat’s project involves a secondary analysis of baseline data that is being collected in Robins’ ongoing study, which examines factors that put women at increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Ghodrat’s goal is to examine the nature of the relationships between mindfulness and biobehavioral factors associated with cardiovascular health outcomes in women.  She plans to address specific biobehavioral factors that include mindfulness, perceived stress, depressive symptoms, fatigue, lifestyle, and other factors.

In addition to her studies, Ghodrat works as a care partner on the Cardiac Surgery ICU Unit at the VCU Medical Center’s Critical Care Hospital and volunteers as an undergraduate teaching assistant for UNIV 112 and 200 courses. She plans to graduate next May.

“Nursing is the most rewarding and affirming way to work with people,” Ghodrat said. “I continue to fall in love with the work I do.”

Jeff Petraco

Petraco, an accelerated B.S. nursing student who is turning 60 this year, said that being a nursing student at this stage of his life while pursuing such an in depth research project “is both exciting and challenging.”

Before moving to Richmond four years ago, he worked as the bureau director of operations for the Pennsylvania Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) in Harrisburg, Pa. His work opened his eyes to the critical need for additional clinical resources for individuals with autism and traumatic brain injury. Petraco said he had considered becoming a nurse for more than 30 years and finally decided to pursue it as a career and make a difference in the world.

“My goal was to work in a stimulating, dynamic environment with the opportunity to work with folks in a helping profession,” said Petraco. “The School of Nursing is preparing me to do just that.”

Petraco is working with Angela Starkweather, Ph.D., ACNP-BC, CNRN, associate professor and chair of the Department of Adult Health and Nursing Systems, on his study, titled “Measures of Pain Sensitivity that Discriminate Responders from Non-Responders after Receiving a Non-Invasive Neuroelectrocutaneous Therapy for Persistent Low Back Pain.”

Petraco’s research involves looking at data Starkweather collected in her pilot study, which is consistent with data currently being collected in her grant, "Pain Sensitivity in Low Back Pain.”  He is examining the data collected from Starkweather’s quantitative sensory testing protocol, as well as gene expression data, in order to determine whether there were specific factors that influenced treatment effectiveness.

“Jeff is collecting important information that clinicians use to decide whether a treatment should be offered and it will help guide us on toward the next stage in this program of research,” said Starkweather. “We are extremely fortunate to have Jeff working with us.”

Before coming to VCU, Petraco earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., and a master’s degree in health care administration and management from Temple University’s Fox School of Business in Philadelphia, Pa. He plans to graduate from the School of Nursing in December 2014.

Rebekah Roby

Roby, a student in the accelerated B.S. program who earned her bachelor’s degree in international relations from Boston University, said she aspires to become a psychiatric nurse and wants to provide supportive and nonjudgmental care.

“In our society, we’re very focused on how we can fix certain things, but we overlook how chronic disease affects a person,” said Roby. “I want to be a part of the movement that looks at patients’ quality of life issues and sees a person as a whole.”

Roby is working with Suzanne Ameringer, Ph.D., RN, associate professor in the Department of Family and Community Health Nursing. Her study, titled “Depressed Mood, Anxiety, and Stress in Adolescents and Young Adults with Sickle Cell Disease, ” is a secondary analysis of Ameringer’s study, titled “Biobehavioral Factors and Fatigue in Adolescents and Young Adults with Sickle Cell Disease."  In looking at data Ameringer collected, Roby is focusing on analyzing the levels of depressed mood, anxiety and stress within the study population to determine how these variables are associated with quality of life.

“Rebekah possesses rich experiences and unique skills to conduct this project,” said Ameringer. “She already holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from Boston University, during which time she studied abroad and had the opportunity to work with a member of the United Kingdom Parliament summarizing articles.”

Roby works as a care partner on the Acute Care Oncology Unit at the VCU Medical Center’s Critical Care Hospital.  In her spare time, she has volunteered with the Sophie House, which works with single mothers to provide job training and goods such as clothing and food. Roby plans to graduate in December 2014.

Anna Young

Young, an accelerated program student, first earned a bachelor’s degree in literary and cultural studies from William and Mary, but always maintained an interest in nursing. With her mother’s encouragement to pursue her passions, Young decided to enroll at VCU’s School of Nursing.

Young will be working with Victoria Menzies, Ph.D., RN, PMHCNS-BC, assistant professor in the Department of Adult Health and Nursing Systems, on her study, titled “Polypharmacy and Symptoms of Pain in Women with Fibromyalgia."

“I was really excited about the opportunity to work with Dr. Menzies because she has dedicated a lot of her career to studying fibromyalgia and her research is really interesting,” said Young. “I also loved her holistic approach to nursing care.”

Young is looking at data Menzies collected in two of her previous studies that involved women being treated for fibromyalgia. Young hopes to determine the relationship between the baseline pain scores women reported and the reported pain medications women were taking at the time of entry to the study. Additionally, Young is analyzing statistics with Menzies and Leroy R. Thacker II, Ph.D., associate professor and biostatistician in the Department of Biostatistics and Data Services, and collaborating with Sallie D. Mayer, Pharm.D., M.B.A., BCPS, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science at the VCU School of Pharmacy. Through her research, Young will have the opportunity to experience collaborative work and learn the importance of baseline information as preliminary data for grant development.

“I am honored to be working with Anna,” said Menzies. “She is an innovative and enthusiastic nursing student whose dynamic interest is something that the nursing profession can benefit from.

Outside of the classroom, Young works as a care partner at the VCU Massey Cancer Center, where she helps patients with activities of daily living and prepares IVs and EKG tests. She also volunteers at Mission of Mercy events taking vitals, checking glucose levels and providing education to underserved populations. She plans to graduate in December 2014.

“I know that our nursing instructors are extremely busy and work so hard, yet they find time to include students in their research,” said Young. “I really appreciate all of the support they give us.”

Creating collaboration. Advancing science. Impacting lives.