Pioneering Pathways: Halle Kahlenberg’s Journey to Clinical Research Excellence

Halle Kahlenberg, a recent graduate from Campbell University with a Bachelor of Science in Clinical Research, stood at the forefront of academic achievement. She became the first published undergraduate clinical research student at Campbell. Her journey from an eager high school student to a published researcher was marked by dedication, curiosity, and a relentless pursuit of knowledge.

Halle’s passion for research was ignited during high school, and it was further fueled by an internship at the Center for Medication Optimization at UNC Chapel Hill. There, she learned the fundamental processes of research and found herself captivated by the intricate world of clinical research. The experience solidified her decision to major in clinical research at Campbell University.

Taking the initiative, Halle approached professor Dr. Mike Jiroutek, expressing her interest in undergraduate research. With his guidance, she embarked on a journey that would not only contribute to her personal growth but also leave a lasting impact on the academic community.

In the fall of 2020, before any COVID-19 vaccines were available, Halle chose to delve into the captivating realm of vaccine hesitancy. Her research aimed to understand the impact of statistics education on people’s decision to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, a topic that was both timely and significant. Little did she know that this initial spark would lead to numerous accolades.

Halle’s work on this statistical literacy project, funded by an internal research grant awarded from Campbell University College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences (CPHS), resulted in posters and a paper that garnered attention. Her presentation on “COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy and Statistical Literacy” won the high merit award at the Wiggins Memorial Library Research Symposium in March 2022. Another triumph followed in April 2022, where she secured the best poster in the Social/Behavioral Science category at the 12th Annual Interprofessional Education Health Sciences Research Symposium.

The pinnacle of Halle’s success in the statistical literacy project was the publication of her paper, titled “Vaccine Hesitancy for COVID-19: What is the Role of Statistical Literacy?,” in Frontiers in Public Health in 2023 along with Drs. Jiroutek and Miranda van Tilburg.

Undeterred by her achievements, Halle delved into a project on diabetes/dementia, funded by the Ester H. Howard Student Research Fellows Program. She was mentored through this project by professor Dr. Susan Misciagno, who has an interest in the topics. This endeavor explored ethnic and racial disparities in the association between type 2 diabetes mellitus and dementia. Her oral presentation at the Wiggins Memorial Library Research Symposium in March 2023 earned her a merit award in the undergraduate oral presentation category. She continued to share her findings, presenting a poster relating the topics to occupational therapy practices at the North Carolina Occupational Therapy Association (NCOTA) meeting in November 2023.

Notably, the manuscript, written in conjunction with Drs. Jiroutek and Misciagno, resulting from the diabetes/dementia project was published by the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, further solidifying Halle’s place in the academic world.

Throughout her presentations at Wiggins Memorial Library Research Symposium, the Interprofessional Education Health Sciences Research Symposium, and the North Carolina Occupational Therapy Association meeting, Halle consistently won merit awards. As she prepared for the national NCOTA conference, she exemplified the spirit of a go-getter, embracing challenges with enthusiasm and determination.

Her dedication extended beyond academia, as she secured a project management internship at ICON during the summer of 2023, showcasing her ability to seize opportunities and make a mark in the clinical research industry. Further, in her final semester, Halle undertook a second internship at the WakeMed Clinical Research Institute, focusing on heart and vascular trials.

Halle added another feather to her cap by winning the first-ever Clinical Research Achievement in Research Award from the Pharmaceutical & Clinical Sciences Department at Campbell. Dr. Mike Jiroutek proudly presented her with the prestigious accolade, recognizing her exceptional achievements in the realm of clinical research. The Clinical Research Achievement in Research Award is presented to a graduating BSCR senior who has demonstrated a persistent interest in research resulting in excellence as determined by presenting (poster or oral presentation) at a local research symposium, a regional or national conference and/or publishing their research in a peer reviewed journal. The student who receives this award must be nominated by the Clinical Research Program Faculty overseeing the research.

Reflecting on her journey, Halle, a native of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, emphasized the supportive environment at Campbell University. Her professors and peers were receptive to her aspirations, creating an atmosphere that encouraged growth and the pursuit of opportunities.

For high school students aspiring to follow in her footsteps, Halle had a simple yet powerful piece of advice: “Do not be afraid to ask to get involved. Make opportunities for yourself.” Her own journey was a testament to the transformative power of curiosity, dedication, and a willingness to take initiative.

Following graduation, as Halle stepped into the clinical research industry with a job in hand, her thirst for knowledge remained unquenched. A master’s degree looms on the horizon, a testament to her unwavering commitment to lifelong learning. Halle Kahlenberg, with her indomitable spirit and trailblazing achievements, left an indelible mark on the field of clinical research at Campbell University and beyond.