Skilled Scholarship

Physical therapy graduate students Valery Kharina, left, and Katy Garber, right, discuss their research project on rocker-bottom shoes and their effects on a person's gait.

By Frank Radosevich II
March 14, 2013

Epigenetics, the study of how genes express themselves in response to an individual’s experience and environment, is a cutting-edge field of molecular biology and one Charlotte Uteg ’11 wanted to investigate further.

So, as a graduate student pursuing her master’s in clinical mental health counseling, she created a survey to gauge people’s attitudes on whether awareness of epigenetics motivated them to change their behavior to improve their own health and wellbeing.

Her study was one of nearly 30 presentations of graduate student research and faculty-student collaboration on display March 14 in the newly renovated Westlake Hall.

Sponsored by the Office of Teaching Excellence and Faculty Development, the event highlights the best of Bradley’s graduate research and creative endeavors from all five colleges. Master’s and doctoral students discussed their poster presentations and scholarly work with the campus community and others.

“We want our students to be leaders in their fields and one of the ways to do that is to conduct research,” said Dr. Jeffrey Bakken, dean of the Graduate School and Sponsored Research. “It’s a great avenue for students to present their work and encourage them to do the same at larger academic conferences.”

Dr. Bakken said the expo also helps raise awareness about the value of student-faculty collaboration in developing and completing academic inquiries.

“Students really learn a lot in the research process,” he said, “and that’s how we make leaders and set ourselves apart from other institutions.”

This year is the first time the University’s 21st annual Student Scholarship Exposition was split into two events—one for graduate and one for undergraduate research.

OTEFD Interim Director Kim Willis, MA ’04 said the decision to host two forums was to help encourage more participation and emphasize the work coming out of both groups. “We wanted Bradley graduate students to have their own chance to shine,” she said. Willis stressed how students not only become experts in their chosen topics but also gain valuable skills they can use later on in careers or future studies.

Valery Kharina, a physical therapy doctoral student, said her first research experience was beneficial.

Her study, conducted with her fellow physical therapy graduate student Katy Garber, centered on the usefulness of rocker-bottom shoes, footwear with a rounded sole that manufacturers claim improves leg muscle strength and tone. Their study had test subjects walk across a GAITRite mat to measure the pressure distributed through the foot while wearing different types of footwear.

The results found that rocker bottoms increased pressure through the foot’s midsection, which might make the shoes useful for patients suffering pain in their heels or toes. However, the shoes, they concluded, could potentially cause overuse injuries if not worn for the right reasons.

“This is my first time doing a large research project and it was a great experience,” Kharina said.

The graduate exposition featured nearly 30 projects undertaken by some 44 students. The undergraduate student expo will take place April 16-18.