Kiley Kennedy makes the most of a hospital research internship

Tuesday, May 14, 2019
Kiley Kennedy

Neuroscience major Kiley Kennedy ’19 didn’t expect to be so moved by reading the charts of pediatric epilepsy patients, a responsibility of her internship in the pediatric Status Epilepticus Research Group (pSERG) at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It’s a story that you can see unfolding in front of you as the facts of the chart reveal the journey that patient took,” she says. “I feel I learn more about them than I would if I met them.”

The pSERG is a consortium of hospitals across the country that share data on how pediatric patients have been treated for severe seizures. This central repository is the only collective data source of its kind. Researchers use it to conduct studies and hope to establish a common protocol across hospitals. For her role in the group at Children’s, Kennedy selects relevant data from patient charts to enter into the database.

She says it’s one of the coolest learning experiences she’s ever had; funds from annual giving donors made it possible.

Kennedy, who is paying for her education herself, interned at pSERG last fall using course credits but needed to take a full course load this spring to finish her minor in Africana and African American studies. I couldn’t afford to pay for extra credits to continue the internship,” says Kennedy, who is attending UNH from out of state with help from financial aid and a generous scholarship from her high school. Fortunately, thanks to donor support, the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture was able to provide the funds she needed.

I’ve learned a lot of neurobiology and it’s given me insight into how the information that’s in our textbooks gets there and why it matters,” Kennedy says. “When I started working on the project, I didn’t know anything about epilepsy. Learning what happens when the brain is not functioning properly helps you understand the brain. Reading patient charts and being heartbroken inspires me to want to help.”

Although she has always been interested in medicine, Kennedy began to doubt herself in college. Enter her advisor, Sandra Rehan, an assistant professor of biological sciences at UNH whose research focuses on bees. Rehan encouraged Kennedy to apply for a summer undergraduate research (SURF) grant to work in her lab. “Professor Rehan is a powerhouse in her field and a genuinely fun person who has high expectations,” says Kennedy. “She taught me what research was and instilled in me the passion and confidence to do more.” Her colleagues at pSERG also have provided Kennedy with a lot of positive feedback, encouraging her to pursue medical school.

"I can confidently say that my UNH experience has pushed me in almost every possible way. I will leave more educated, passionate and driven than I imagined possible,” Kennedy says. Keenly aware of the help she’s received along the way, she plans to spend a year doing service of some kind after graduating and before applying to medical school.