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The American Academy of Nursing (AAN)  has selected Theresa Kessler, Ph.D., RN, ACNS-BC, CNE as a fellow. Kessler is a nursing professor at Valparaiso University and was the recipient of the Kreft Endowed Chair for the Advancement of Nursing Science in 2015.

AAN was founded in 1973 and has 2,500 fellows, such as Kessler, who have been sponsored and selected by other fellows of the organization. The academy recognizes distinguished nurses of varied vocations including those in the field, professors, and researchers. 

While fellows are all accomplished nurses, “the academy sees it as important that those who become fellows, they continue to contribute their efforts to not only the academy but also helping other health care leaders and helping to improve the health care system in the US. And so it's an ongoing group that tries to advance health policy and practice changes, and they do that through the synthesis and dissemination of nursing knowledge,” said Kessler.

Kessler’s most prominent individual research has been in her work developing an instrument to measure cognitive appraisal. A person’s cognitive appraisal is the way that they perceive and cope with stressful situations. She has created a series of questions asking an individual about how their health affects other aspects of their life. 

“For instance, I've done work with women who have breast cancer. So how is breast cancer affecting their daily life, how they perceive it, how is it affecting interactions with their family, for their looking towards their future. And so there's a variety of questions that add up to and create a response about how they appraise their current health status in lieu of whatever health condition they're facing,” Kessler said.

Kessler places an emphasis on the inclusion and improvement of student research. As the Kreft Endowed Chair for the Advancement of Nursing Science, she has been able to expand the amount of research opportunities available for Valpo students. 

“My main focus has been to support a student, faculty, collaborative research program,” Kessler said. 

She added that the program, which involves her and another faculty member, works with students who are selected in the second semester of sophomore year and continue in the group until graduation.

The model differs from research at other schools because the extended time period of the program allows students to grow as leaders as well as taking on leadership amongst each other. Topics are selected by students based on need or interest they see in the community.

Along with a program for smoking cessation in pregnant women, “We did a study recently looking at the caregiver role of a person who's taking care of a family member with dementia. So those have been some of our off campus activities,” Kessler said. “On campus we took a look at smoking cessation. We had a campaign to [have a] tobacco free Valpo and work with smoke free Indiana. For several years, we've taken a look at drinking behaviors and binge drinking and put educational materials out around campus to warn students about the health issues associated with binge drinking and drinking in general.” 

Currently, the group is looking into the issue of vaping and its prevalence among young adults. Research began last semester with a survey sent to students and is continuing to collect data through focus groups this semester. 

Looking forward, the undergraduate research team will conclude their research into vaping and come together to pick a new topic of interest. As a fellow in the AAN, Kessler will continue her own research as well as her ongoing investment into the education of students.

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