By Amanda Mlekush
Three graduate students from the Beaver College of Health Sciences and one faculty member are being honored on April 4 by Appalachian State University’s Cratis D. Williams School of Graduate Studies.
Dr. Kym Fasczewski, graduate program director for the Department of Exercise Science, will be inducted into the Graduate School’s Academy of Outstanding Mentors for 2022-2023.
"I'm passionate about our graduate programs, and graduate education," said Fasczewski. "Over the past four years as the graduate program director for Exercise Science, I've focused on developing our programs academically and overall for our students so that they can thrive. It means a lot to me to receive this award and be recognized."
The three BCHS graduate students who are being honored for their research are:
- Marisa Howell (Nutrition) – recipient of the Zigli Graduate Student Research Award for 2022-2023.
- PJ Koopmans (Exercise Science) – recipient of the Graduate Student Outstanding Thesis Award for 2022-2023 in Science/Technology.
- Shawn Roberts (Exercise Science) – recipient of the Domer Graduate Student Research Award for 2022-2023.
About the Students and Research Being Recognized
(Photo provided of Marisa Howell)
After completing her undergraduate degree in Nutrition and Foods with a concentration in dietetics from App State, Howell began working on her master’s in Nutrition and Foods.
In collaboration with Nutrition faculty member Dr. Sydeena Isaacs, Howell is working as a Research Assistant to study how a whole-food plant-based (WFPB) diet intervention may impact college students’ physical and mental health.
According to Howell, the determinants of health encompassed in the intervention closely align with the constructs of the Social Cognitive Theory and the Theory of Planned Behavior, and the group will compare two different teaching modalities: one lecture-based and one interactive-experiential. Over the course of three weeks, participants will attend three, 75-minute intervention sessions covering the following topics: (1) a beginner’s guide to whole-food plant-based eating (2) planning and shopping for whole-food plant-based eating and (3) eating whole-food plant-based when dining out and in social situations.
“I am beyond grateful for the guidance, patience, and insight provided by Dr. Isaacs and our research team, and anxious to begin implementing the intervention we have worked so hard on!,” said Howell.
(Photo provided of PJ Koopmans (center) with parents outside Leon Levine Hall).
In approaching the topic for his master’s thesis, PJ Koopmans studied muscle responses in mice by comparing how a pre-existing model of progressive weighted running wheel model (PoWeR) more closely resembles resistance-type exercise, as opposed to a combined endurance/resistance-type stimulus.
He sought to modify PoWeR because wheel running is an activity mice perform voluntarily and can be leveraged to elicit exercise adaptations similar to human exercise regimes, making the exercise more translatable.
Koopmans concluded that the results of his thesis determined that exercise adaptations were largely the same between my modified model (coined heavy PoWeR) and the original PoWeR; the mice studied experienced modest growth and enhanced strength of hindlimb muscles. Muscle fiber-types transitioned from "faster" to "slower" overall, but PoWeR treated mice did so to a greater extent–likely due to greater running distances (4-8 miles vs 1-3 miles per night).
“My most notable experience as an App State student was lucking into wonderful caring mentors, great professors, a close knit group of students, and having access to extremely well equipped research facilities,” Koopmans said.
After graduation, Koopman will pursue a Ph.D. studying skeletal muscle biology at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville while investigating the role of epigenetics in regulation of muscle mass in the context of exercise and healthy aging, muscle "rejuvenation," and understanding muscle wasting during cancer.
(Photo provided of Shawn Roberts)
Before attending App State, Roberts earned a mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Tech and worked for seven years as a flight controller for the international space station at NASA.
His graduate research in Exercise Science studies how neurophysiology of kinesiophobia alters the biomechanics of injured individuals and studies how healthy individuals responded to the same set of tasks that individuals who had suffered an ACL tear responded.
According to Roberts, movement patterns can be altered by changes in arousal levels or cognitive load when performing a task. When returning from injury, individuals could possess a certain amount of fear that increases their cognitive load, thus decreasing their ability to make proper movement plans. During these tasks studied, individuals were randomly startled, at which point changes in their movement patterns were measured.
“My time at App State has been crucial in my development as a professional, and working with Dr. Alan Needle added a variety of research related knowledge/skills to my engineering background and helped me become a more well-rounded professional,” said Roberts. “The classes and time spent working in the cadaver lab also helped increase my knowledge of the human body as it relates to movement and exercise.”
After graduating from App State, Roberts is planning to work at the Children's Hospital in Los Angeles where he will analyze movements in children who have had surgery or are undergoing rehabilitation.