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Research + Results

Throughout its history, Samuel Merritt University has excelled at teaching. With a student to faculty ratio that averages 10 to 1, classes are known to be small, interactive and hands-on. During clinical rotations, students have access to preceptors at the hospital, or other clinical sites, at a ratio of no more than 8 to 1. Depending on the specialty, a ratio of 1 to 1 may be required to provide safe patient care. These factors have enabled the curricula across all disciplines to be consistently rigorous, fastpaced and learnercentered, with primary emphasis on student learning and patient safety.

University culture has changed dramatically in the last several years, accelerating since the College became a University in 2009. Although research has been traditionally infused throughout the teaching and learning experience, SMU is beginning to develop within its faculty more focused efforts to produce a broad range of scholarship that can directly contribute to the knowledge base of the professional degrees that the University offers. Where faculty have long been recognized as expert practitioners in their fields, the scholarly qualifications and interests of our professoriate have increased in impressive ways.

Faculty are regularly published in peer-reviewed journals and books, many more are invited to serve on national boards or professional committees, and a growing number have been awarded grants and other professional honors.

Research accomplishments by SMU faculty are numerous. The University has begun to emphasize the important role of faculty scholarship by including research as one of the 20 dashboard indicators of overall institutional performance. Scholarly production is clearly increasing. Over the last four years, measures of scholarly productivity have increased over 200 percent. There was minimal grant activity among faculty eight years ago. Since that time, the University has received an excess of nine million dollars in externally funded research and program development grants. The SMU research agenda reflects a diversity of topics important to national health issues, notably in the areas of multiple sclerosis (MS), brain trauma and rehabilitation, HIV, genetics, and multicultural and disadvantaged populations.

Samuel Merritt University is especially proud of the research by physical therapy professor, Gail Widener, PhD, PT. Her continuing research on Movement Ability Changes with Bland-Based Torso-Weighting in Multiple Sclerosis was recognized by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), awarding Dr. Widener a grant of $339,146 in fall 2010. Dr. Widener and her research partner at San Francisco State University (Ms. Cynthia Gibson-Horn, PT, inventor of the balance intervention study) are studying how wearing weighed vests positively affect the stability and effectiveness of MS patients with ambulation made difficult by their disease process. This is the first NIH grant awarded to a SMU faculty member in several decades. Less than 20 percent of all NIH grant applications submitted receive funding, and the number of funded grants awarded to first time recipients is substantially less.

Gordon Giles, PhD, Dip COT , OTR /L, FAOTA , professor in the occupational therapy department, is a well-known researcher in addressing rehabilitation after brain injury. His research on neurofunctional approaches to rehabilitation after moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) has appeared in many published journals as well as in presentations to state and national occupational therapy associations and university conferences across the country. Dr. Giles has been recently commissioned by the American Occupational Therapy Association to lead the team to write the organization's position statement on cognitive rehabilitation. Following the Tucson shooting of Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the national news media consulted with Dr. Giles because of his expertise on brain injuries. SMU has provided financial support for his speaking engagements at many national forums regarding his research on innovative approaches to rehabilitation after traumatic brain injury. Dr. Giles has received over 20 invitations to such events nationwide.

With a mission to transform healthcare in diverse communities, a growing number of University faculty are involved in research projects focused on improving the quality of life for disadvantaged or marginalized individuals. School of Nursing associate professor, Michelle Hampton, PhD, RN , MS, for example, has published research on severe mental illness with HIV in African-American populations. Professor Peter Barbosa, PhD, California School of Podiatric Medicine has published on the clinical treatment of plantar verrucae in HIV patients. The research of professor Cecily Cosby, PhD, FNP-BC, School of Nursing, has focused on issues of sexual assault, domestic violence, AIDS , and more recently on healthcare education for the transgender population.

In addition to research and publication, scholarly activity by SMU faculty takes many forms. Notably, School of Nursing assistant professor Patricia Brennan, PhD, RN, MS, has recently completed a yearlong appointment as a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Faculty Champion in Genetics and Genomics in addition to her scholarship noted above. Her work with the NIH has positioned Samuel Merritt University as one of only 20 institutions nationally to address the translation of genetic and genomic science into the curricula for an inter-disciplinary team of health professional students. This work has led Dr. Brennan to national and international presentations at the NIH, the Global Alliance for Leadership in Nursing and Science and the International Society for Nurses in Genetics. She continues to work on an NIH advisory board to assist in the development of model curricula for integration of genetics and genomics across the country. In addition, Dr. Brennan has recently collaborated as a co-principal investigator on a translational grant with colleagues at MIT's Center for Environmental Health Sciences involving the genetic impact of environmental health, with a specific focus on health professional education. Of particular interest to Dr. Brennan are the ethical, legal and social implications of the application of genomic healthcare and the health policy issues that are likely to arise, given issues regarding access to and cost of these advancing technologies.

The University recently congratulated Michael De Rosa, PhD, MPH, PA -C, chair of the physician assistant (PA ) program, for receiving $1.23 million in federal funding from the Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA ). This grant will help meet the growing need for cost-effective, accessible healthcare for a rapidly expanding population in 13 underserved counties in Northern California and Hawaii. Students from these areas who express an interest in providing primary care in their home environment after graduation are eligible to receive $22,000 per year for two years through the HRSA funding. This initiative hopes to increase the number of PA 's to help fill the gap created by an anticipated shortage of primary care physicians.