Sept. 7, 2023

‘An immersive learning experience’


In Ryan McGrath’s lab, NDSU undergraduate students get advanced research experience working with the aging population of North Dakota.

Healthy Aging North Dakota, or HAND, investigates human lifespan health. Specifically, the lab evaluates the role of muscle function on health in during aging adults.  The lab has been active for a year.

“The older adult demographic is a rapidly growing age demographic locally, nationally and globally,” said McGrath, assistant professor of health, nutrition and exercise science and director of HAND. “With that rapidly growing older adult population, comes increased age-related disease and age-related disability. Preventing those things now will help to lower the health burden in the future.”

Undergraduate students in the lab work closely with study participants and conduct data collection and analysis. Participants are volunteer, local community members who fit the study criteria. 

Participants are asked to make two lab visits to the lab. Students conduct intake surveys, take body measurements, administer cognitive questionnaires and collect data related to the main study. This involves five different assessments, including hand grip and walk tests. After the second visit, the students input and analyze process the collected data.

Halli Heimbuch, a senior nutrition science student from Moorhead, Minnesota, and Emily Stover, a senior exercise science student from Fargo, are two of the undergraduate students working in the lab. 

“It’s a great and fascinating opportunity to be a part of the research process. It’s more of an immersive learning experience,” said Heimbuch. 

Students also can use the experience and knowledge they’ve gained working in the lab to pilot their own research projects. Both Stover and Heimbuach are conducting research projects related to healthy aging; Stover with HAND Women and Heimbach with HAND Nutrition.

“The bar of the tasks we’re asking undergraduate students to do is very high,” McGrath said. “To have our students come in and have a really hands-on experience, a very interactive experience, but also have an experience that they can own and lead, is something that richens the educational experience development for the students and gives them exposure to things that they normally wouldn’t have exposureexperience to.”

Heimbuach and Stover are looking forward to continuing research into the year ahead, both in the HAND Lab and their individual pilot projects. 

“Research gives you a broader area of knowledge. In the lab, we’re applying that knowledge to real-world experiences,” said Stover. “There’s no specific set of steps to begin research or gather data. You have to just go with it and not be afraid to ask for help, which, I think, is something that I’ll definitely take with me.”

To learn more about the HAND Lab, visit the official NDSU YouTube page.

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