Student Research in the Spotlight at Honors Week 2022 Presentations

Mary Allen, Director of Communications
Masked male student standing at podium in Lathem Hall with bright screen of his presentation
Student James Rodgers presents his research in Lathem Hall during Honors Week 2022.

Junior Natalie Sassi knows she wants to be a nurse, and has a desire to work with vulnerable populations in an underserved area. When she enrolled in Assistant Professor of Nursing Christine Pariseault’s Evidence-Based Practice course as part of the School of Nursing honors program, Sassi had a unique opportunity to conduct a thought-provoking research project that allowed her to study how her future profession of nursing can impact lives.

Sassi’s research culminated in the presentation “The Role of the Nurse in Combating Human Trafficking,” which she delivered to an audience of about 40 people in Lathem Hall – including fellow students, faculty, deans and even Widener President Julie E. Wollman. 

“I feel like I was able to raise some awareness,” Sassi said, reflecting on the experience.

Head shot of student Natalie Sassi with School of Nursing sign and seal behind her.
Student Natalie Sassi

Her presentation was part of Honors Week 2022 at Widener, a special week observed each spring that involves multiple events like honor society inductions, speaker programs, award ceremonies, and of course, student presentations.

The presentations are a daily fixture during Honors Week. Always held during the lunch hour, they attract crowds from across the university’s schools and colleges who listen attentively as students explain their research topics, how they conducted their work, and summarize their findings. Professor Mark Graybill, director of the Honors Program, said the research projects and Honors Week presentations help prepare students for their careers.

“There’s skill involved in condensing research that in some cases has unfolded over a period of years,” Graybill said, noting students each get eight minutes to present their projects, and they have to be able to think on their feet when they take audience questions. “It’s communication skills and critical thinking skills,” he said. “A liberally educated person should be able to communicate what they’re working on for a broad audience.”

Sassi educated the crowd on her findings about human trafficking with some shocking research findings:

  • Up to 88 percent of victims have been seen by at least one health care provider at some point while being trafficked.
  • Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise.
  • The life expectancy of someone trapped in the human trafficking world is just seven years.

Sassi advocated for standardized training for nurses on how to identify the physical and psychological signs of human trafficking when working with patients, and for valid assessment tools in the nursing workplace. Both should be the standard of care, she said. Nurses often get a valuable opportunity to be alone with a trafficking victim as they deliver care.

“Nurses have the potential to play a pivotal role in the rescue of victims if they are properly trained,” she said. “Human trafficking enslaves not only the body, but the mind of the trafficked person.”

Head shot of nursing professor Christine Pariseault
Assistant Professor Christine Pariseault

Pariseault attended the Honors Week presentation to support Sassi. She took photos and raved about Sassi’s ability to conceive compelling research ideas. While it is the first time Pariseault has taught the Honors Evidence-Based Practice course, she is already thinking about ways to help students like Sassi grow their research topics, disseminate findings, and take them to the next level.

“I would love for the students to have a publishable piece of writing on their topics, something they can contribute to the nursing literature,” Pariseault said. “Our undergraduate nursing students are the future of health care.  I believe we need to work to grow their passions and foster lifelong learning.  These are the foundations of future nurse leaders.”

Sassi said she felt accomplished after delivering her presentation, having been given a university  platform to share her research with students, staff and Widener educators from all disciplines. The whole experience was a great opportunity.

“I’m really glad that Dr. Pariseault encouraged us all to do these presentations,” she said.

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