A college student explains her poster to another person
Courtesy Liz Wright/The Augusta Press

Nursing student shines with undergraduate research projects

Research can be a big part of a college student’s education. Many times, partaking in research is a curriculum requirement, and other times, it’s something they pursue on their own.

A college woman poses in front of her poster board presentation.
Stephanie Felonta

Stephanie Felonta is an example of a student who has dedicated her time to actively seeking research opportunities, having already completed two research projects before her senior year.

Originally planning to attend medical school, Felonta pivoted toward nursing, driven by her passion for the field. Despite her family’s expectations for medical school, she explained that nursing resonated with her more and offered valuable experience that could benefit her should she decide to pursue a medical career in the future.

“I like nursing because it is very versatile, allowing you to work in many different areas and gain different experiences,” Felonta said.

Her journey to the field began in high school when she completed the certified nursing assistant program. This experience sparked her interest to start her on this journey she continues to follow today.

“I appreciate the patient care aspect of nursing and just being there for people whenever they are experiencing vulnerable times,” said Felonta. “I feel like nurses are there to support their patients and their families.”

Being part of the Honors Program at Augusta University ignited her enthusiasm for research, marking the beginning of her flourishing academic career in college.

Thirteen college students from Augusta University's Honors Program pose for a photo while holding a banner that reads "Augusta University Honors Program since 1996."
Stephanie Felonta with other Augusta University Honors Program students

The first research topic was on music therapy in dementia patients. She explored how music therapy could positively impact behavioral symptoms in dementia patients across various scenarios and how it could stimulate and alleviate specific behaviors.

She received regional recognition for her research.

“I was selected to present my paper at the Georgia Honors Collegiate Conference through the Honors Program for two consecutive years, winning second place both times.

“The paper was also selected for presentation at the National Collegiate Honors Conference in Chicago. I’ve developed a deep fondness for conducting research, presenting my findings and delving into the literature reviews, which further motivated me to continue down this path,” she said.

“I like to see that there’s faculty there for you. If you show interest, they will help you the best they can. I feel like that’s what really has made my experience here at AU great. It’s also why I chose AU because I’ve heard great things about the research program and how the faculty is there to help you.”

Stephanie Felonta

In the College of Nursing PhD program, she caught the attention of several faculty members including Thomas Joshua, PhD, associate professor in the College of Nursing.

Joshua served as a mentor and quickly saw the qualities that set her apart from the others.

“She is a hard-working, self-focused individual,” said Joshua. “She is capable of doing research in a better way. Stephanie is an extremely intelligent, diligent individual with a heart for health equity.”

Felonta’s most recent research is titled “Social Determinants of Health Comparison between Scotland and Georgia.” She approached Joshua and Beth NeSmith, PhD, interim dean of the College of Nursing, looking to do more, and that started the collaborative efforts on the topic.

Having taken some sociology classes, Felonta became interested in the non-medical factors and the role they play in impacting someone’s health. There are a number of similarities between Georgia and Scotland, so it was natural to compare the two.  

A college woman presents to a group of people at a conference
Stephanie Felonta presents during the National Collegiate Honors Conference in Chicago.

“It was very interesting to see the similarities and differences in the medical models and still see that, even though there’s universal health care in Scotland, there are factors that hinder health quality when compared to other countries,” Felonta said. “They also have a lot of similar social determinants of health that can be compared and contrasted here in Georgia. It was very interesting to see and think about how the way they do things differently and that we can apply here and vice versa.”

The research brought additional honors her way, including being named the first Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship International Fellow. Moreover, she was chosen to present the findings at the 2023 CONVERGE symposium, an event primarily attended by seasoned researchers who share their insights and discoveries.

Felonta admitted feeling apprehensive initially but was pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction and genuine interest others showed in her research topic. She indicated that the breakout sessions led to insightful conversations and discussions, contributing to a valuable exchange of ideas.  

“It just sparked the conversations of moving the project forward because it was in the early stages. So, I got to interact with individuals at Robert Gordon University that I could reach out and build the next steps that I had envisioned for my project,” Felonta said.

“I was particularly impressed that, although she was an undergraduate student, Stephanie conducted the statistical analysis and completed her first drafts of the poster independently. Her high-quality poster generated an invitation to be an oral presenter at CONVERGE. These scholarly activities exemplify her outstanding characteristics of diligence, self-directiveness and strong work ethic,” said Joshua.

Felonta gives a lot of credit to Joshua and NeSmith for encouraging not just her, but all nursing students.

“I like to see that there’s faculty there for you. If you show interest, they will help you the best they can,” she said. “I feel like that’s what really has made my experience here at AU great. It’s also why I chose AU because I’ve heard great things about the research program and how the faculty is there to help you.”

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Written by
Kevin Faigle

Kevin Faigle is Media Relations Specialist at Augusta University. Contact him to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at kfaigle@augusta.edu.

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Avatar photo Written by Kevin Faigle

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