Emma Costello, an undergraduate student at the School of Nursing, was part of a team that won recognition at this year’s Undergraduate Research & Scholarship Symposium (URSS) that took place April 17-21, 2023.  Costello, along with her teammates from Rangos School of Health Sciences, Melanie Tommer, Melanie Schultz and Aleena Purewal, supported by faculty advisor, Regina Harbourne, PhD, focused their research on early, childhood development. Their project, How is Focused Attention Related to Infants Learning to Sit, investigated the relationship between total focused attention time and Gross Motor Function Measure (GMFM) scores in early sitting infants. Focused attention is when the participant is completely devoted to a task or object. The concept has been connected to learning and other cognitive skill development. 

Team posing with their poster in the backgroundThe team observed 26 infants all between 6-8 months old, who were given 3 different types of toys for 90 seconds. After measuring the relationship between GMFM scores and total focused attention, Costello and her fellow students found that their results supported previous studies showing that children with motor delays have lower attention when transitioning from being sitters to crawlers. As infants gain new motor skills, they engage in greater exploration of their environment, potentially leading to less periods of focused attention to objects. The team’s study adds to the evidence that motor and cognitive skills are inter-related in complex ways.

Costello and team became curious about this topic after hands-on research in the infant lab. As a nursing student, Costello brought a unique perspective to her team, which was mostly made up of physical therapy students. Her hospital perspective from clinicals impacted her viewpoint on motor delays. She reflected, “I personally have seen the impact on motor delays on cognitive development and feel that nursing staff and students interested in pediatrics should feel comfortable screening for delays in infancy. I was able to expand my knowledge from the infant lab with my pediatric class, and I asked a lot of questions on long term impacts of certain diagnoses and developments during my clinicals.” 

During the project, the team met once a week on their own time to review results and discuss their findings. Costello admits, “Balancing all of the work was hard, but we worked together to get everything done. We were a collaborative team and had a lot of communication with one another.” Obviously, their efforts paid off when they presented their research poster during the symposium and won the URSS award. “I was very proud of our team for winning the award. We put so much work and heart into this research. We could never have done it without Dr. Harbourne, the rest of the Duquesne team, the New York City College group and the National Science Foundation, which provided us with the grant to pursue this research.”

Costello believes their findings “can impact early developmental research. While this was not the first research to be done on focus attention and sitting, adding more evidence to the studies on motor function and focus attention will only improve evidence that is used to screen for developmental delays.” She went on to explain that she was personally fascinated by cognitive development in infants. “I love talking about it and showing my other nursing students how important research is in our field of work.”

The team’s work is at the core of Costello’s passions, and after graduation, she hopes to work in pediatrics in Pennsylvania. She elaborated, “I would possibly like to focus in neurology and after a few years of experience in that field, I would like to pursue my NP. During my career as a nurse, I hope to continue researching and teaching others.”  

To future DUSON nursing students, Costello advised, “I was not a great writer in high school. Later, I realized the real problem was I just needed to start writing on something I was passionate about, like childhood development. It’s important for nursing students to feel comfortable writing and speaking so that we can write out policies and present new ideas to our colleagues. As nurses, we have the advantage to see certain flaws in health care, and it’s our job to write about them and present our research to incite change.”

Congratulations to Costello and her teammates on their URSS win! Our nursing students at DUSON are always prepared to shape the future of health care and take the steps necessary to generate positive change.

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May 22, 2023