Four years ago, Maggie Welch was recovering from a traumatic brain injury. Now she’s studying how to better treat them.
Welch, a senior from Marietta who is majoring in neuroscience, is the inaugural recipient of the Zeinah Danielle Eau Scholarship, which recognizes outstanding Georgia State University Honors College students who are completing an undergraduate research thesis. She will receive her award at the start of the Fall 2020 semester.
Welch’s personal experience with traumatic brain injury began well before her academic research, but the two are equally important in her education and her career plans.
Just before her junior year of high school, Welch fractured her skull during an ATV accident while on vacation in rural South Dakota.
“I don’t really remember a lot about what happened next,” she said. She was told later she was medically evacuated to the nearest hospital, 100 miles away, and eventually jetted to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where she spent months recovering.
Her recovery included redeveloping her fine motor skills so she could hold objects like playing cards, rebuilding her legs muscles so she could walk independently and retraining her brain so she could hold onto new memories and concentrate on the order of simple tasks.
Welch said she hopes to eventually return to the Shepherd Center—this time as a physical therapist specializing in treating patients, like herself.
“I’ve seen what it’s like from the other side,” Welch said. “And I really want an opportunity to give back to patients the way the physical therapists and doctors at the Shepherd Center gave to me.”
But first, Welch is finishing her honors thesis, which examines a method of studying conditioned response—essentially the brain’s learned reaction to certain stimuli—that is more ethical and may better account for individual differences.
Welch said she hopes her research will help inform new and better treatments for people diagnosed with brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, otherwise known as PTSD.
“The more I’m involved in the lab, the more my passion for this subject grows,” said Welch, who is conducting her research under the mentorship of Kim Huhman, a distinguished professor of neuroscience and psychology in the College of Arts & Sciences. Welch has presented her thesis research during the Spring 2020 Honors College Thesis Pitch and the Georgia State Undergraduate Research Conference.
Welch said she will use her $1,000 scholarship award to help her pay for graduate school. After completing her dual B.S. and M.S. degrees in neuroscience, Welch said she plans to apply to Georgia State’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program in the Byrdine F. Lewis College of Nursing and Health Professions.
MORE ABOUT THE SCHOLARSHIP
The Zeinah Danielle Eau Scholarship was established by Zaier Aouani and Grace Eau, a clinical associate professor of economics in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. The scholarship is named after their daughter Zeinah Danielle Aouani.
“In the name of our beloved daughter, we hope to encourage and guide talented and hard-working students,” Eau said. “We hope that this scholarship creates ripple effects—beyond a student’s education at Georgia State to their careers and to society. We hope that student recipients will be able to pay back their communities when the time comes.”
The scholarship provides $1,000 for one academic year.
Eligible students must be Honors College rising seniors who have at least a 3.3 GPA and are completing or continuing honors thesis or independent research.