Feb. 23, 2018
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Illinois Wesleyan University nursing faculty Ann Eckhardt and Amanda Hopkins have a passion for research, and they can further pursue that passion with their students, thanks to funding from the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s 2018 Nurse Educator Fellowship.
Earned by 19 applicants statewide, the fellowship awards $10,000 to each recipient in an effort to ensure the retention of well-qualified nursing faculty at institutions of higher learning.
Hopkins said the fellowship is reflective of the University’s mission, as the funds will continue to encourage student-faculty collaboration and inspire student-led experiences.
“These funds have allowed me to not only conduct research on my passion, but also to collaborate with students to fulfill their passion,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins said the fellowship also embodies the School of Nursing’s emphasis on encouraging students to work with faculty on rigorous research experiences.
“I think it is really important and one of the things that distinguishes us and our relationship with our students at this University – specifically the School of Nursing – compared to other nursing institutions,” Hopkins said. “Design, methodology and delivery is an expectation, and I think that receiving these funds are going to help continue student collaborative research.”
Such experiences are not common for undergraduate nursing students, according to Eckhardt. Having taught at larger institutions, Eckhardt and Hopkins said research opportunities are often geared toward graduate students and focused on faculty members’ interests.
“Something unique that we do is encourage students – if they’re passionate about something, we help to support that interest,” Eckhardt said.
Hopkins said because of the amount of funding granted to large institutions that emphasize research, “One would assume that many more undergrads would be engaged in more research opportunities at a large institution versus Illinois Wesleyan, which isn’t the case at all.”
As an institution focused on signature work and leadership projects, “student-faculty collaboration, student-led research and students’ involvement in research, is engrained in the culture here at Illinois Wesleyan,” Hopkins said. “It is enculturated from a very early stage.”
Student-led research is crucial to preparing students for success in the workplace and in giving them a “leg up” when they are entering a graduate program where they have to conduct research, Eckhardt said.
An Illinois Wesleyan alum, Eckhardt’s undergraduate research experiences allowed her to find and pursue her passion in graduate school. The 2003 IWU graduate remembers being encouraged to identify her interest in heart disease and heart surgery at Illinois Wesleyan.
“That got me started on my entire research trajectory,” Eckhardt said. “It started when I was an undergraduate and has continued throughout graduate school and my career. I want to be able to do the same thing for my students – to be able to help lead them through what hopefully could be a research arc and not just a one-time study.”
The “small, qualitative study” that Eckhardt conducted as an undergraduate inspired her to take her current research in Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS) to an international level. After attending the Technos International trip in Japan 2014, a two-week cultural immersion trip that involves two students and one faculty member, Eckhardt noticed an “odd juxtaposition” between the increase in heart disease in Japan versus a decrease in the U.S.
Since then, she has been collaborating with a faculty member and research assistants in Japan to collect data to compare the symptoms of ACS in Japan to those in the U.S. She will use the funds from the fellowship to attend the Sigma Theta Tau International Research Congress to present preliminary findings and address the challenges she has faced with international collaboration.
“This is an opportunity to dialogue with researchers around the globe – to see if there are other researchers out there that would want to do something similar, that would be willing to look cross-culturally and add another avenue to the study,” Eckhardt said. “So potentially it would not just be the U.S. and Japan, but we would be looking at some other areas as well.”
After being approached by a student three years ago who was concerned about wearing hijab in hospitals, Hopkins said it was her experience as a professor at Illinois Wesleyan that also inspired her current research involving creating culturally competent and inclusive healthcare environments.
“The whole journey began with a student saying this is something I’m passionate about, and me saying, ‘this is something we need to research,’” Hopkins said.
In 2014, Hopkins began working with her student to develop a survey tool to examine the perceptions and attitudes of healthcare providers on Muslim nurses and received the fellowship in 2015 to pilot her study. But due to a lack of state funding, 2015 awardees did not receive funds and were required to reapply for the 2018 term to be reconsidered for the fellowship.
Having received the fellowship for a second time, Hopkins and assistant professor of nursing Wendy Kooken, along with her new student research assistant Siohbhan Geraghty ’18, have expanded the study to include a range of underrepresented populations. She will use the funds from the fellowship to pilot the study.
“It is the exact same effort and goal, except now, it can be multifaceted so it can be used in the future instead of only with this one group,” Hopkins said.
Having used the funds in different ways to enhance their research, Eckhardt and Hopkins said the unrestricted funds grant them the freedom to develop their own passion and that of their students, embodying the “signature work” that characterizes Illinois Wesleyan.
“I think to have an award like this gives us the ability to identify what is most meaningful for us, whether that is faculty development, funding for a study that we are working on or a signature experience that we are with students,” Eckhardt said. “Having this unrestricted funding can help to support multiple facets of our faculty development as well as our scholarship.”
By Vi Kakares '20