Aurora Vandewark, a junior honors nursing student and Presidential Scholar from Kirkland, Washington, received a Villanova Undergraduate Research Fellows grant this summer for her student research project that assessed the breastfeeding attitude and knowledge of nursing students. Over the course of her first two years at Villanova, Aurora developed a strong interest in maternal-child health; her experience volunteering in the breast health center of her local hospital during high school, in combination with this growing interest, was the inspiration for her research. Aurora also recognized through reading several nursing-related articles that breastfeeding continues to be an important area of research in this country. It has been identified in both Healthy People 2010 and 2020 as a particular area of interest and researchers are currently studying how we can increase its initiation and duration rates.
For her project, Aurora utilized an electronic survey to assess the incoming accelerated second degree program adult students and also those graduating from the same program; she found by using this group she could access those at the beginning and the end of their nursing education. During the summer Aurora also spent time as a volunteer and observing with a lactation consultant at a local hospital.
Her faculty mentor, Clinical Assistant Professor Michelle Kelly PhD, CRNP, worked with Aurora over the summer in completing the project. When Aurora mentioned to Suzanne Smeltzer, EdD, RN, FAAN, director of the Center for Nursing research, of her interest in studying breastfeeding for her research project, Dr. Smeltzer contacted Dr. Kelly who has a background in pediatrics and neonatology. Dr. Kelly noted that Aurora was “a diligent student who was able to complete the project over the summer. I enjoyed assisting Aurora with this research project, as she learns, so do I…If undergraduates spend time doing research they can become professionals who better understand how to utilize and implement research.”
Aurora’s study had a 25% participation rate, respectable for any research participation. She presented at the Villanova Undergraduate Scholars day on September 19 and has also submitted the findings for publication to the Journal of Human Lactation. This experience has influenced her education and perspective on nursing research. Aurora says, “The research process has enhanced my education by giving me insight into the role of nursing research, both in my career and in the profession as well. By creating a project and seeing it through to completion, I learned so much about the research process, the rewards and frustrations of research, and how to create a viable research project.” She plans on repeating this project with traditional undergraduate nursing students in the spring to see if she can achieve a greater statistical significance and further clarify some of her results. She looks forward to incorporating research in her career and is interested in pursuing a MSN with a specialty in nurse midwifery, eventually earning a PhD in nursing.