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Sparking a Passion for Research

Sparking a Passion for Research

By Dayna Ballantyne

Success as a nursing professional is defined by more than hands-on care for patients. To enter the profession ready to lead, nursing students must immerse themselves in behind-the-scenes work— training, professional development, and research opportunities; however, associated costs often act as barriers in doing so. At the University of Iowa College of Nursing, one program is helping to remove those barriers.

Started by a gift from University of Iowa College of Nursing graduate Nancy Stence Creason (BSN ’60)—who later served as dean of the School of Nursing at both Millikin University and Southern Illinois University—the Young Scientist Program provides year-long mentored research experiences for undergraduate nursing students, including financial help for attending and participating in conferences. While the program started with Creason’s gift, she insists that credit for the idea belongs to someone else.

“I remember talking to former College of Nursing Dean Melanie Dreher about making a gift to the college,” explained Creason. “She suggested how beneficial it could be to undergraduate students to create a young scientist program, and I really liked the idea. Getting undergraduates interested in research can only enrich their practice, as research informs clinical practice and practice informs research.”

Through the program, UI College of Nursing student Clarissa Hubbard spent five semesters as a research assistant on a pilot study funded by the American Nurses Foundation. The study focused on continence promotion in assisted living, and Hubbard was mentored in the experience by College of Nursing faculty Paula Mobily and Janet Specht.

Hubbard says the experience opened her eyes to the importance of research, and even inspired her to set new goals for her higher education. “My time spent on this study taught me a lot about the importance of nursing research and how it is truly the backbone to all nursing care,” said Hubbard. “The program contributed to both my personal and professional development by helping me learn my passion for nursing research, something I plan to pursue in the future through further education.”

McKenzie Wallace has been similarly affected by her participation as a young scientist. Wallace was selected to take part in the program in May of 2012, and since then has worked with UI College of Nursing Professor Nancy Downing on a project related to Huntington’s disease.

In the fall of 2012, as part of the program, Wallace traveled to the Midwest Nursing Research Society (MNRS) annual conference. “Not only was I able to see what other researchers were doing, but also I was able to reconnect with faculty at the University of Iowa who were doing research that interested me,” noted Wallace. “By the end of the conference I knew I wanted to keep doing research as a career and I now plan to go on to get my Ph.D. so I can teach at a university and continue to do research in the nursing field.”

Jessica Lewandowski also attended the MNRS conference in 2012. “The experience opened my eyes to interests I didn't even know I had,” said Lewandowski. “I especially loved talking one on one with nurses at the poster presentation sessions. Their excitement for their research is contagious, and it lit a flame inside of me for the research my mentor and I are working on.”

Lewandowski has been working with UI College of Nursing Professor Anne Ersig on genetics-based research, including a current project that aims to explicitly define the procedural anxiety phenotype in the pediatric population.

Gifts from loyal friends and alumni like Nancy Creason—who is a member of the University of Iowa Presidents Club, which recognizes Iowa’s most generous contributors—allow the UI College of Nursing to continue providing a margin of excellence for students. And, as Dr. Creason notes, those gifts come in all sizes.

“Everyone has to think about their own financial situation, and not everyone can make the big gift we often hear about. But even if it doesn’t seem like much, every gift counts. It’s as simple as getting in touch with the college and asking how you can help.”

For information about how private support helps the UI College of Nursing continue to prepare the nurses of tomorrow, visit

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Posted On: 
Sep 26th, 2013