8:57 a.m., June 22, 2009----Kimberly Stevenson, a biological sciences major with a premed focus in the University of Delaware's Honors Program, has been selected to receive a 2009 Nemours Student Research Scholarship. A rising junior from Tucson, Ariz., Stevenson is one of just 10 students from throughout the U.S. to receive one of the coveted scholarships.
The 10-week program enables undergraduates interested in biomedical research to spend the summer working at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del. Now in its 39th year, the program provides participants with a unique translational research opportunity that combines basic science and clinical research in a pediatric environment.
Stevenson is working with Dr. Steven Bachrach, co-director of the Cerebral Palsy Program, and Heidi Kecskemethy, clinical research associate, on a project addressing bone density and fracture in children with cerebral palsy (CP). For several years, the hospital has been retrospectively collecting data about children with CP, including their history of fracture, general health, use of bisphosphonates (a class of drugs that prevent bone loss), and bone density test results. The project focuses on using this data to predict risk and prevent fracture.
Stevenson has a very special interest in the topic -- her younger sister has CP. “Her condition inspired my interest in medicine, in particular in pediatric neurology and orthopedic surgery,” Stevenson says.
Her work at the hospital involves collecting and analyzing the CP data, as well as shadowing Bachrach on his clinical rounds. In addition to Bachrach and Kecskemethy, Stevenson is also being mentored by Dr. Theodore Harcke, director of Imaging Research.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for me,” she says. “Being in the hospital rather than in a lab, I'm really getting good insight into what it is like to be a doctor. I'm also able to attend research presentations given here by clinicians. I attended one recently that included a great deal of organic chemistry, and it is awesome to see the practical applications of a subject that I've learned about in class and from a textbook. It made me realize that my courses really do matter.”
Through competitive figure skating, Stevenson had the opportunity to travel when she was growing up, and she fell in love with the East Coast lifestyle. When the time came for her to make a choice about college, she realized UD was a good fit in terms of its location and size, as well as the quality of its biological sciences department.
However, she no longer skates. “After my first semester as a bio major, I realized I couldn't do it,” she says. “I not only study all the time, but I also have several jobs. In the future, I'll probably skate recreationally but not competitively.”
With her interest in skating, Stevenson initially thought she would focus on sports medicine. But a serious incident with one of the life-saving shunts in her sister's brain changed her mind. “I saw how quickly she went downhill when her shunt failed," she says, "and I realized that I wanted to be involved with making kids' lives better.”
Stevenson is enjoying sharing her daily experiences at the children's hospital with her UD colleagues. “All of my friends are doing research this summer,” she says, “and it's really exciting to come back and compare notes on what we've learned that day and have the opportunity to see how what we've learned in our classes applies to the real world.”
Stevenson's dream is to go to the prestigious Georgetown University School of Medicine, but she is realistic. “I'll be thankful to get into med school anywhere,” she says. “My backup plan if I don't is to get an advanced degree in business and go into health management. The most important thing for me will be to find something that lets me stay in the hospital environment. That's what I love.”
Assistant Professor Patricia Walsh, who is Stevenson's adviser at UD, was not surprised that she had won the Nemours scholarship. “Kim is extremely bright and hard working,” Walsh says. “But even more important, she's at the hospital working on a project that really touches her -- she's not doing it just to fill in a check box on her way to med school.”
Article by Diane Kukich
Photo by Duane Perry