Skip to main content

Heilbrunn Center announces recipients of its Nurse Scholar Awards


Three nurses at New York state universities have been selected to receive the university’s Heilbrunn Nurse Scholar Awards, which The Rockefeller University awards annually to provide financial support for nurses while they pursue independent research projects. Each one- to two-year award provides a maximum of $25,000.

As one of the first hospitals in the country devoted exclusively to medical research with human subjects, Rockefeller University Hospital now provides a dynamic and cutting edge environment for clinical research nursing. Administered by the hospital’s Heilbrunn Family Center for Research Nursing, the prestigious Heilbrunn awards honor nurses whose research will make a significant contribution to the discipline of nursing.

“The Heilbrunn Center would like to extend our congratulations to this year’s three recipients of the prestigious Heilbrunn Nurse Scholar award,” says Patricia Eckardt, director of the Center, which funds the awards, vets the applicants, and mentors the recipients. “This year’s award winners seek to answer complex questions regarding chronic diseases that disproportionately affect vulnerable populations, and I am delighted that the Heilbrunn Center can help these outstanding nurse investigators launch their research careers.”

Jessica Castner, Julia Kueppers, Chia-Kuei Lee

Nurse Scholar Award recipients Jessica Castner, Julie Kueppers, and Chia-Kuei Lee

A committee of internationally recognized nurse scientists selects the winners from applications submitted by doctoral and post-doctoral nurses across the United States. The 2015 recipients are:

Jessica Castner

Dr. Castner plans to test the feasibility of using the Fitbit, a wireless, wearable activity tracker, to monitor sleep disruption caused by asthma in women. She will then determine the relationship between the women’s sleep data and variations in their lung function, asthma control, and exacerbation.

An assistant professor at the University at Buffalo’s School of Nursing, Dr. Castner’s research focuses on preventing, eliminating, and managing dyspnea, or difficulty breathing. Her work is focused on diminishing the gender gap in adult asthma control, developing sensors and devices as clinical applications to improve asthma, and using a “big data” approach to ascertain asthma sub-types, and biomarkers.

Julie Kueppers

As part of her interest in excess weight gain among children, Ms. Kueppers will examine the relationship between mothers’ perceptions of themselves as healthy eaters and their own and their children’s dietary intake and body mass index. The results of this project could assist in developing new approaches to improving childhood nutrition and preventing unhealthy weight gain.

A doctoral student at the University of Rochester School of Nursing, Ms. Kueppers has years of experience caring for patients, and currently works as a Family Nurse Practitioner in a college health center. Ms. Kueppers’ long-term goal is to become a nurse scientist, and to develop a program of research dedicated to childhood obesity prevention with a focus on maternal factors.

Chia-Kuei Lee

Drinking and smoking are two activities that often overlap among undergraduates, and Dr. Lee is interested in how self-perception as a drinker affects how someone processes smoking-related information and their smoking behavior. She plans to survey undergraduates to determine whether or not they perceive themselves as smokers and drinkers. Then, she will assess their responses to smoking-associated stimuli and collect a 90-day history of their smoking and drinking behaviors.

Dr. Lee, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Rochester School of Nursing, focuses on the role of self-cognition in risky behaviors among adolescent and young adult populations with the long-term goal of prevention. Ultimately, she wants to expand her research to ethnic minority populations experiencing escalating rates of substance use but receiving little attention.

Funding for the awards, now in their third year, is from an endowment established by sisters Helaine Lerner and Joan Rechnitz in honor of their parents, Harriet and Robert Heilbrunn.