May 30, 2019

UM undergrad wins Best Presentation Award for research with RTC:Rural director on loneliness and aging

Over the past semester, RTC:Rural Director Dr. Catherine Ipsen worked with University of Montana (UM) undergraduate Nelson Weaver on his senior capstone project about the effects of loneliness on the aging population. Weaver’s poster presentation won a best presentation award at UM’s Conference of Undergraduate Research. He graduated in May 2018 with a major in psychology and a minor in communication studies.

Nelson Weaver holds his award and stands next to Catherine Ipsen.
Nelson Weaver (left) and Catherine Ipsen (right).

Weaver contacted Ipsen about his interest in psychology and well-being of those experiencing mental and physical impairments and asked about possible capstone research opportunities. “This inquiry came at the perfect time,” said Ipsen. “I was juggling lots of projects, but wanted to make headway on a grant proposal idea focused on aging and health impacts of loneliness. Nelson was the perfect fit.”

The first part of Weaver’s capstone involved synthesizing the existing research on the effects of loneliness and social isolation on older adults, as well as research on effective intervention strategies. Then, armed with this information, he and Ipsen organized and facilitated a community stakeholder meeting with local service providers and other researchers. At this meeting, the group discussed how this research supported their on-the-ground experiences. They also discussed the feasibility and considerations of adapting RTC:Rural’s current Living Well with a Disability curriculum for different aging populations as an effective strategy to address loneliness and social isolation.

Nelson Weaver stands next to his research poster at the UM undergraduate research conference.
Nelson Weaver stands next to his poster, titled “Loneliness and the Aging Population.”

“The experience I gained throughout this process has been amazing,” said Weaver. “This process has shown me how a simple idea can turn into a fully funded study, with real world implications.”

“I know I’ll be able to use this experience in my future endeavors of becoming a clinical psychologist,” he said. “I have been able to meet and learn from many prominent and established individuals in the Missoula community,” he said, which “… has been huge as it has connected me to people associated with my career interests.”

“Being able to continue to work on this project has also been helpful when applying to graduate schools, Weaver added.” “Having an experience like this is not too common, and it helps you stand out during the application process.”

After graduation, Weaver plans to work for the year, while applying for graduate schools.