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Health, wellness take spotlight at CNPD Research & Scholarship Day

Presentations and awards highlight College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines’ annual research showcase


More than 80 students presented at the annual event representing multiple disciplines across the college. Photo by Walter Criswell/UND Today.

The College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines recently hosted its annual Research & Scholarship Day in the Memorial Union and online. Following last month’s visit by Shannon Zenk, director of the National Institute of Nursing Research, CNPD students had the chance to showcase how research in their fields can make an impact in both clinical and preventive ways.

Eighty students presented an impressive array of research at the May 1 event, and much of what they showed could have significant — and surprising — real-world applications.

Lindsey Grass, a senior Human Nutrition student, researched the effectiveness of salt alternatives in reducing hypertension and heart conditions in patients. She said that she and her research partner, Brett Kelzenberg, had a personal connection to their study.

“We wanted to look specifically at hypertension because we both have family members with hypertension, and we know how important and challenging it is to manage.”

They found potassium an appealing alternative because of its importance to the body and the fact that it’s generally lacking in typical American diets.

“Potassium is present in all of the body’s tissues, and it’s important for a lot of functions in the body, muscle contraction and fluid balance,” she said. “The daily value for it is 4,700 milligrams of potassium, and most Americans aren’t meeting that because a lot of diets do consist of processed foods.”

She said that using potassium-based salt substitutes could reduce hypertension and increase patients’ overall health. However, persuading patients to adopt salt substitutes is challenging, and one of the largest challenges is the substitutes’ higher cost.

“Salt substitutes do cost more than traditional table salt, and that can be a barrier for patients. That’s important for nutrition professionals to know when consulting with patients on sodium intake,” she said. “The good news is that increasing awareness can help patients gravitate toward these alternatives as a tool to aid in heart health and reduce those hypertensive risks.”

social work students
Five students from the Department of Social Work stand with their research posters. Photo by Walter Criswell/UND Today.

In another unique research area, Jakob Nelson, a graduate student in social work, presented his research proposal for a therapy strategy for adults with autism spectrum disorder and substance use disorders: roleplaying games similar to Dungeons & Dragons.

“The basic idea here is to give them a structured group environment that is a little bit more predictable than a typical social gathering like a party. In this environment, it’s a smaller group of people trying to reach a common goal, with clear rules and expectations,” Nelson said. They know what to expect, but there is also spontaneity involved.”

Nelson said that many adults with autism spectrum disorder find themselves using substances in problematic ways to alleviate stress and anxiety associated with large social gatherings. The structure of roleplaying games can help them develop tools to navigate complex social situations.

Part of the reason this therapy is effective is the ability to take on a character’s persona, giving the hypothetical patients enough distance to evaluate how they are handling situations without the level of self-scrutiny.

“A few years ago, I took an online course about therapeutic game mastery. And from the limited information that’s out there currently, we’re seeing benefits for this kind of therapy,” Nelson said. “A lot of that is because it’s a more approachable and accessible environment, which helps limit the stigma of discussing and treating substance use disorders in particular.”

Nelson added that the therapy sessions would be bookended with group debriefing and processing sessions to examine how the participants can apply what they’ve experienced in-game to real-world scenarios.

“I’ve been talking with a cognitive behavioral therapist who uses this as a primary mode of therapy,” Nelson said. “I think the idea of roleplaying a character and applying it to these situations is fascinating, and it can help people apply lessons learned in therapy to real life.

two students talking
Students and faculty had a chance to catch up with each other’s research at a lunch and social following the event. Photo by Walter Criswell/UND Today.

Graduate nurse anesthetist student Alexis Schauer Gilson presented her project, an outreach project directed at undergraduate nursing students. She completed the project with partners Kristine Cacnio and Ashley Souders. Their outreach focused on raising awareness about certified registered nurse anesthetist (CNRA) careers.

“I was interested in becoming a CRNA because I really like having that one-on-one patient care. I knew that I wanted to develop those advanced practice skills, but this is something that allows me to remain at bedside patient care,” Schauer Gilson said.

CRNAs provide essential support in hospitals. They can administer anesthesia without supervision and monitor patients during surgery, giving them more autonomy in their work. However, the profession is struggling to fill the gaps in employment left by current CRNAs aging out.

“Right now, the need for anesthesia services increasing in the U.S. and by 2023 there’s an anticipated need for up to 5,600 CRNAs in the country,” she said. “We need to have a plan for succession because they do fill an important role in medical settings.”

Their study consisted of informational sessions given to 58 undergraduate students. They used pre- and post-presentation surveys to measure students’ awareness of and interest in CRNA careers.

Their presentation included a slideshow with information on the potential benefits of nurse anesthetists, including higher average pay and greater professional autonomy, and simulated scenarios of bedside intubation, an essential role in the profession.

They saw an increase in interest among surveyed undergraduate students and, notably, found that the simulation significantly increased students’ confidence in performing intubations. The results were promising enough that they are looking at replicating the study with other populations.

“In the future, we could present something similar to high school students or target specific programs like RAIN,” she said. “Most people in the general public and even some health care professionals don’t fully understand what a CRNA is. We hope that bringing awareness can help address that workforce aspect.”

nataniel johnson
Nathaniel Johnson, assistant professor of Nutrition & Dietetics, presented with several students at the event. He also presented the end-of-day awards. Photo by Walter Criswell/UND Today.

Scholarship & Research Day recognitions

After the event, CNPD recognized presentations from each department through awards voted on by faculty and attendees. Those presentations are listed below.

Faculty Favorites

Nursing: “Nurse Anesthesia: The Hidden Gem,” and Kristine Cacnio, Alexis Schauer Gilson, Ashley Souders.

Nutrition & Dietetics: “The preventive effects and impact of the Mediterranean diet and MIND diet on Alzheimer’s disease development,” Maggie Dervis and Skylar Thingvold.

Social Work: “Enhancing Mental Health Support for Refugee Youth in Grand Forks High Schools,” Nshimirimana Aline.

Crowd Favorites

Nursing: “Benefits of Acupuncture for Menopausal Women,” Natalie Johnson, Mikayla Leach, Katelyn Longerbone, Kipton Pintok and Alexis Thomas.

Nutrition & Dietetics: “Effects of Time-Restricted Eating (TRE) on Metabolism and Cognitive Function,”  Autumn Thompson, Ashley Chase, Tristan Darland, Bjorn Sheils and Dmitri Poltavski.

Social Work: “Empowering Reentry: The Crucial Role of Social Support for Newly Released Indigenous Inmates,” Alyssa Alberts.

Faculty Awards

As part of the event’s welcome, Dean Maridee Shogren also announced the recipients of the Faculty Research & Scholarship Contribution Awards. The awards were given by the CNPD Research & Scholarship Committee and recognized full-time faculty in tenure and clinical tracks at different stages of their careers.

The recipients are as follows:

Experienced (6+ years of experience)

Tenure Track: Yi-Ping Hsieh, associate professor of Social Work.

Clinical Track: Karen Semmens, clinical assistant professor of Nursing.

Novice (0-6 years of experience)

Tenure Track: Jeffery Anvari Clark, assistant professor of Social Work.

Clinical track: Anne Bodensteiner, clinical associate professor and graduate program director of Nutrition & Dietetics.


Full bios of the faculty can be found at the announcement post on CNPD’s webpage.