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Of Dogs and Doctors: Presenting Research in Dublin

Dr. Jerri Kropp, Mikaela Shupp, and Mary Wallace-Noe in Ireland.

Dr. Jerri Kropp, Mikaela Shupp, and Mary Wallace-Noe in Ireland.

The year of 2016 has presented Dr. Jerri Kropp and her students with myriad opportunities to share their research in the field of early childhood education. In addition to presenting at the Council for Undergraduate Research this summer, Kropp recently spent a week in Dublin, Ireland with honors alumnae Mikaela Shupp (business management and Spanish ’16) and Mary Wallace-Noe (child & family development’11), where they were able to present their findings on an international stage. During the first week in September, they attended the 26th Annual European Early Childhood Education Research Association (EECERA) Conference held at Dublin City University, the largest conference of its kind. This year’s conference included 920 attendees from 44 different countries representing 6 continents. Of all the presentations given at EECERA, two of them included Dr. Kropp. She presented “Benefits of Having a Therapy Dog in the Classroom: A Review of Research,” alongside Shupp, and “How to Reduce Children’s Fears of Doctor Visits Using Medical Play” with Wallace-Noe.

By taking Dr. Kropp and Dr. Maurer’s honors First-Year Experience (FYE) course on animal-assisted therapy, Shupp began a professional partnership with Dr. Kropp that has lasted throughout her undergraduate career. The pair had already presented together twice, once at a University System of Georgia conference, and another time at the Georgia Association of Family & Consumer Sciences conference.

“I was happy to work with Mikaela again,” Dr. Kropp said. “Because we’ve been working together a number of times, I feel like we’re always on the same page in terms of our approaches to working on and giving presentations.”

After Dr. Kropp asked Shupp to present with her, Shupp applied for funding from Georgia Southern’s Undergraduate Research Council, which made the experience possible for her. Meanwhile, the pair immediately started work on their presentation. They had begun a review of the research when Mikaela was a sophomore, but their task was to read and add the most current existing literature on therapy dogs in the classroom.

Shupp said, “In conducting a review of research, you try to find similarities and common themes among studies. We knew we had read nearly everything we possibly could when authors were citing other authors we’d already read.”

The impact their study had on other conference attendees emphasizes how truly vital the study of therapy dogs is to early childhood education research. Before the conference even began, a program director from Wales who wanted to begin a research project on dogs in classrooms contacted Dr. Kropp based on reading just the abstract for her presentation.

“She contacted me and said she wanted to implement a program and collect data in several schools in Wales and wanted to meet us in person,” Dr. Kropp said. “Our session was in the last slot of sessions on the last day of the conference though, so she had to leave early to catch her flight, but she ran to our session to briefly talk to us before leaving.”

Dr. Kropp and Shupp also made contact with other colleagues with similar interests, such as a professor and psychotherapist from Spain who presented a poster on a study of therapy dogs with children who have been abused. He plans on two future studies involving therapy dogs in children’s hospitals and in classrooms—exactly Dr. Kropp’s avenue of research.

Shupp also enjoyed the opportunity to meet researchers from other countries: “One of the most interesting aspects of the conference was meeting people from other places, especially considering that the topic was education and everyone was coming from completely different education systems. In our session alone, which was on improving child outcomes, one set of presenters was from Denmark, and the other was from the UK. It was just really cool meeting people from other countries with the same interests.”

She also had the chance to see another Georgia Southern alumna in action—Mary Wallace-Noe, a current Masters of Public Health Candidate, presented research with Dr. Kropp that began with Wallace-Noe’s honors thesis. Dr. Kropp had collected data for several years involving a class assignment where students conduct medical play sessions with children ages 2 to 11 in child care settings and afterschool programs. Students visited 23 different programs and Kropp and Wallace-Noe conduced a content analysis of 56 reviews of the medical play sessions.  The research question was whether or not medical play in childcare settings would lessen children’s fear of doctor visits by familiarizing them with medical equipment during a session of dramatic play.

Wallace-Noe emphasized the importance of their research: “The experience of play allows children to express fears and misconceptions they may not feel comfortable sharing in an openly vulnerable way. It presents them with the opportunity to play doctor and be in control the situation so their fears can begin to diminish. Play is very powerful in the hands of a young child.”

Dr. Kropp agreed, saying, “Medical play sessions in childcare centers help children cope with repeated experiences with doctors and medical staff.  Young children spend a lot of time at the doctor’s office for well visits, including vaccinations, as well as sick visits, including colds, injuries, and respiratory infections.  Incorporating these sessions into preschool curriculum can help child cope with past medical experiences and prepare for future medical encounters.”

After the presentations were over, everyone was pleased with their results, particularly Dr. Kropp, who sees both presentations as opportunities for future research and publication.

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