Photo caption: Dr. Jerry Hoepner, professor of communication sciences and disorders at UW-Eau Claire, and Audrey Nelson, executive director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Wisconsin that is located at the university, say a federal grant will provide opportunities for students to participate in designing goals, activities, interventions and research with people with brain injuries.
More than four decades ago, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire alumna Audrey Nelson struggled in her college courses less than a year after a traffic crash injured the frontal lobe of her brain.
“I was just sort of bumbling along for a while,” recalls Nelson, who graduated in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in social work. “I was sleeping 12 hours a day. I would have to have my schedule on my binder so I knew what class was next and where to go.”
Nelson, who today is executive director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Wisconsin that is located at UW-Eau Claire, says she could have benefited from access to services and resources for those with brain injuries “to know that my struggles weren’t unlike other people’s struggles with brain injuries.”
UW-Eau Claire will administer a $600,000 federal grant to strengthen advocacy efforts for individuals with brain injuries, including increasing access to information, referrals and resources. The three-year grant, which will be matched by $300,000 in state contributions, can be renewed for an additional three years.
“This grant provides a perfect opportunity for UW-Eau Claire to fulfill our mission of educating students and serving our community,” says Dr. Carmen Manning, dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences. “Within UW-Eau Claire, this grant allows our faculty — four of whom will be directly involved with the grant — to connect the teaching and research they do with students and colleagues to direct collaboration with individuals with the lived experience of brain injury.”
The Brain Injury State Partnership Program grant will support development of the Brain Injury Advocacy Network of Wisconsin. The network is a partnership between the Brain Injury Alliance of Wisconsin and the SOAR Fox Cities Traumatic Brain Injury Support Program.
The grant provides opportunities for UW-Eau Claire students to participate in designing goals, activities, interventions and research with people with brain injuries.
“There are a number of services we've wanted to provide but didn't have the resources,” says Dr. Jerry Hoepner, professor of communication sciences and disorders. “This will help to expand our human and funding resources so that we can learn how to engage individuals who have less access to supports, are less aware of supports or may be less trusting of providers and support systems.”
CSD students have worked with individuals with brain injuries for many years, Hoepner says, including through the Blugold Brain Injury Group, Mayo Brain Injury Group, Thursday Night Poets, TBI Connect and by helping to organize the state support group summit. Students have engaged in research surrounding group interventions, project-based self-advocacy, health care perceptions and the TBI Connect treatment program, and regularly co-present their research with Hoepner at national and international conferences.
“Our hope is that this will create further research, including translational research to address health care disparities and underserved individuals,” Hoepner says. “We anticipate further specialized treatment programming across the state.”
Hoepner says that in addition to CSD students, the grant could engage students from social work and kinesiology in programming and could expand further to include health care administration, nursing and humanities.
Nelson says connecting individuals with brain injuries with support groups and peers can help them navigate through life.
“A lot of people are given information when we’re in the hospital, but they don’t really access it,” Nelson says. “They and their families are just glad that they are alive and are going to be OK now. They just go home and then the problems start to evolve and show themselves. We want to help them move forward through this and let them know they are not alone.”