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Luce Scholar Improves Lives of Kids with Prosthetics

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C.J. Stanfill

Doctoral student C.J. Stanfill conducts much of his research in Bellmont Hall’s Development Motor Control Lab.

By Laura Messer

For most people, the ability to move their body is a natural, automatic aspect of daily life. But for children with a disability that requires a prosthetic device, the act of moving can be a significant daily challenge. Christopher J. Stanfill, MS ’10, a master’s-turned-doctoral student in kinesiology, hopes to help those children through his research in the University’s Movement Science Program.

Stanfill’s interest was sparked through a program he encountered at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas while he was studying physical therapy. Children with disabilities were taught the fundamentals of golf, participants ranging from those with cerebral palsy and autism to others who had partial paralysis and were using prosthetics. For Stanfill, a member of the golf team at the University of North Texas, a single afternoon with the kids changed his life and perspective forever.

“During this program, I developed a passion for working with children who use prosthetics, as they demonstrated some of the most outstanding courage I have ever witnessed,” he says. “Each of the children displayed more drive and determination than anyone I had ever been exposed to. My attention was drawn to the children with prosthetics and the way they managed their ability levels and created their own adaptations in order to produce the desired movement.”

After earning a BS in kinesiology at UNT, Stanfill narrowed his focus to movement science when he came to the University in 2008. Part of the Kinesiology & Health Education Department in the College of Education, the Movement Science Program encompasses several disciplines in kinesiology: biomechanics, motor control, developmental science, and motor learning. Stanfill’s work has focused on child development, specifically on how the growth and movement of a child typically develops. He compares typical growth patterns with those of children with disabilities. The goal is to create adaptations that will improve physical function. “This research aims at bettering the lives of those with disabilities by understanding the intricacies of the rehab process and making improvements where needed,” he says.

In addition to his day-to-day research, Stanfill has served as a teaching assistant and athletic mentor. Reflecting on his time thus far, he notes that what stands out about UT is the diversity of research and the caliber of his peers. “The University offers a vast community that allows students to become integrated in several different fields. There is so much great work being done here on a daily basis. It’s truly been an honor to be surrounded by such accomplished people,” he says.

C.J. Stanfill

Thanks to a prestigious fellowship from the Luce Scholars Program, Stanfill is now in Laos working with land-mine victims.

Stanfill can count himself among those accomplished people. In addition to qualifying for support from UT’s Mary Buice Alderson Scholarship and the Joseph L. Henderson and Katherine D. Henderson Foundation, this spring he was named a 2011-12 Luce Scholar. The Henry Luce Foundation launched the prestigious Luce Scholars Program in 1974 to enhance understanding of Asia among potential leaders in American society. Stanfill was one of only 17 individuals chosen to receive the award this year — and the only recipient in the southwest — after a rigorous interview process that winnowed 151 highly qualified candidates from 67 institutions. The fellowship sent him to Laos, where he is now, for more than a year to work with land mine victims undergoing prosthetic rehabilitation.

Of course, with amazing opportunities come challenges of equal proportions. Among the transformational experiences that students encounter in a graduate education, an increased sense of empowerment may be one of the most rewarding. This ability to utilize one’s strengths for positive change is what helps propel UT’s research from inside its buildings to the rest of the world. “Being able to incorporate a level of creativity while understanding the truthful possibilities of an idea are skills that I definitely did not have” before coming to UT, Stanfill says.

His advice to those considering graduate school is to establish a strong mentoring relationship with a faculty member within their program, as well as friendships outside of it. “Take advantage of your time at the University and be open to challenging yourself,” he says. Stanfill has worked with College of Education professor Jody Jensen from the beginning. A member of UT’s Institute of Neuroscience, Jensen directs the Development Motor Control Lab in Bellmont Hall, where she studies the development of movement skills and changes in movement competence from infancy through older adulthood. Stanfill credits her with providing both unrelenting support and worthwhile challenges.

Once he completes his doctorate, Stanfill hopes to teach at a medical school and conduct research on rehabilitation strategies for patients with prostheses. “I have a huge passion for travel, so I would like to be able to experience different parts of the world while offering my knowledge to patients in developing countries. I have a lot of short- and long-term goals,” he says. “But I know that I definitely want to dedicate my life to working with people with disabilities.”

A version of this article appeared originally in Grad News, the official blog of UT’s Graduate School, with supplementary material from the College of Education.

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