Student Spotlight: Ellie Walker

More than a year ago, Ellie Walker decided she wanted to pursue Speech-Language Pathology as a career path. While looking for a summer job, she looked for positions that were focused on research, and was selected for the MaineHealth Institute for Research’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program. During the summer of 2023, she “worked alongside a behavioral scientist and assisted her in the start-up phase of her clinical trial to improve the mental health of parents/caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in rural Maine.” While there, she “was exposed to all different stages and types of research and got to present a scientific poster at the MaineHealth Intern Symposium at the end of the summer.”

Nowadays, Walker is working in faculty mentor Jessica Riccardi’s Brain injury Education and Rehabilitation Lab (BEaR Lab), where she’s focusing on “the impact of driving time on pediatric traumatic brain injury (TBI) follow-up visit attendance in a rural state.” Walker will be using a retrospective chart to review data of children with TBI. “I will be looking at follow-up appointment attendance and I will also be looking at other variables’ effect on the attendance rate, including injury effect and socioeconomic status. Maine is one of the few states that only has one children’s hospital (Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland, ME). Maine is also one of the most rural states, making access to healthcare more difficult to achieve.” Walker hopes that her findings will “provide evidence for more support to rural areas.”

Walker has an important message to share with students across campus: “Research is not just what you imagine: lab coats, beakers and test tubes. Though a lot of research is like that, research is ongoing in almost all areas of study. […] I encourage everyone – even if you are not a STEM major – to look into research opportunities. I have learned so much from conducting and participating in research, and the knowledge has helped me with my academics. Additionally, having mentors has been very beneficial as I have gotten to learn how to maintain a mentor-mentee relationship. Both of my mentors at MaineHealth and UMaine have provided me with an immense amount of knowledge and opportunities in my area of study.”