Trainee Spotlight: Morgan Hines

Morgan Hines is a 5th year Biology & English Student from Louisville, Kentucky and a member of both the University Scholars & Honors Programs. Morgan’s first position as a ROUTES scholar was within the Speech and Neurodevelopment Lab (SNL) of Dr. Emily Zimmerman in Fall 2017, which is a part of Project 1 within the CRECE Research Center. For this role, she collected and investigated Non-Nutritive Suck (NNS) data seeking to understand connections between environmental exposures and infant neurodevelopment. After the co-op, Morgan continued working in Dr. Zimmerman’s lab on a part-time basis while taking classes, and ultimately developed her second ROUTES co-op continuing her work on CRECE and PROTECT at the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus under the supervision of Dr. Gredia Huerta-Montañez and Dr. Carmen Vélez-Vega.

Due to her passion, dedicated research efforts, and numerous accomplishments within ROUTES and CRECE, Morgan was selected to be the interviewed and highlighted for her impressive contributions to environmental health research as an undergrad. The following has been adapted from the transcript of her recent interview.

ROUTES initially attracted Morgan because of her interests in clinical research and a desire to find Faculty mentors, as well as research opportunities on campus.  “I am passionate about Environmental Health because environmental exposures affect humans every day,” she explained. “It is empowering to get to investigate how environmental exposures impact human health, and it is empowering to think that the research that CRECE and PROTECT are publishing might one day influence public policy and environmental regulations.”

During her first ROUTES co-op with Dr. Zimmerman, Morgan learned the basics of infant Non-Nutritive Suck (NNS), which is when infants suck without feeding (such as on a pacifier). NNS can be measured, and can be used to measure infant neurodevelopment. Morgan learned how to operate and utilize the NNS Device developed by Dr. Zimmerman, and was even entrusted to travel to the University of Illinois at Urbana Champagne to provide the Illinois Kids Development Study (IKIDS) research team members a full training and follow-up support on the device for their study. She also helped generate a data dictionary for NNS and assisted in the establishment of the NNS database for the CRECE cohort. To summarize this experience, Morgan presented a poster at Northeastern’s Research, Innovation, and Scholarship Expo (RISE) titled “Non-Nutritive Suck as a Non-Invasive Biomarker of Brain Development in a Puerto Rican Cohort – A Feasibility Study”, in which she conducted a literature review to provide background on how NNS tracks early indications of present and future neurodevelopment.

Between her first and second ROUTES co-ops, Morgan continued to work in Dr. Zimmerman’s lab and participated in the Sucking Feed and Vocal Development Study under the direction of Northeastern PhD Student Kelsey Thompson. Her work involved taking the NNS device to different homes in Boston for study visits, and ultimately gave her the confidence to work with infants and their families in their homes. While applying for her final co-op at Northeastern, Morgan recognized that she would be able to make more impact if she continued working with ROUTES. With the goal of creating a diversified experience within her ongoing research in mind, Morgan constructed the opportunity to learn more about CRECE’s data collection processes that occur in Puerto Rico. With the help the CRECE team, she set up a co-op where she would work locally with Dr. Zimmerman for two months while spending the last four months of her experience assisting CRECE and PROTECT Research at the University of Puerto Rico.

Currently, Morgan is assisting Dr. Huerta-Montañez with data cleaning and management for the Battelle Development Inventory (BDI) and anogenital distance measurements, and has worked on creating a data dictionary for the BDI. She is also working on collecting preliminary data to understand how many infants in the CRECE cohort are compliant with the vaccine schedule designed by the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP). Through this role, she has continued collecting NNS at the CRECE office in Puerto Rico, updating the CRECE calibration methods, and analyzing CRECE NNS data. In November, she returned to Boston to present a poster at the 2018 American Speech and Hearing Association convention focusing on preliminary data from the relationship between measures of NNS and the BDI Total Raw score and Communication Domain Raw Score, taken at the 2-8 week visits for infants in the CRECE cohort.

“My favorite part of working with ROUTES is getting to see so many professionals working together, and seeing how different disciplines contribute to projects,” she said. “Since starting my final co-op experience in Puerto Rico, I have seen how data is collected, cleaned, shared, and shaped into studies. It is a fascinating and complex pipeline that is managed by an incredible group of people.”

After graduation, Morgan plans to pursue a clinical career, but the ROUTES program helped her realize that she also wants to remain involved in research. She explains, “…Having learned that I love being a part of research that focuses on understanding human health in real time. I love working on research that will impact humans today.” Through working with Dr. Zimmerman, Morgan has learned about careers in research as well as the responsibilities and problem-solving skills that it takes to manage a lab. Having a mentor such as Dr. Zimmerman helped Morgan to see what it is like to be a teaching researcher and a leading innovator in one’s field. At the same time, through working with Dr. Huerta-Montañez, she has seen what life as a physician-researcher looks like, and that it is possible to maintain a clinical career while also engaging in meaningful research. 

Upon reflecting on the totality of the ROUTES Experience so far, she explained, “It is quite an extraordinary opportunity to see so many people from so many backgrounds and locations, working together to study a real-world problem. CRECE and PROTECT are like well-oiled machines and I have learned the importance of team work and collaboration through my interaction with the projects. Without everyone’s guidance and role, nothing would be possible.”

Morgan completed her second co-op in December 2018, and will be graduating with her combined BS in English and Biology in May. In the future, Morgan hopes to earn her MD-MPH and engage in both clinical practice and public health research.

To learn more about Morgan’s research during her time with ROUTES, please see below: 

RISE 2018 | Poster

SSIRF 2018 | Poster

ASHA 2018 | Poster