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College of Nursing

Harris wins Breakthrough Graduate Scholar Award

What is rest? Eboni Harris asked a group of African-American women this question as part of her dissertation project. She’s a faculty member in the College of Nursing and a 2017 recipient of the Breakthrough Graduate Scholar Award from the Office of the Vice President for Research.

While her research interest is in improving physical activity and nutrition in African-American women, Harris needed to narrow that down to a dissertation project for her PhD degree program at the College of Nursing.

“I came across several things that talked about a barrier to (African-American women) participating or continuing in physical activity would be that they weren't getting enough rest, or they needed rest, or they valued rest over physical activity. But there was never any further explanation,” Harris said. And so she found her topic.

On the surface, Harris’s research question is simple. What is rest? However, she’s found the answer anything but.

“I did focus groups and interviews and the women couldn't explicate what they meant when they said rest. Even more probing questions weren't getting the answer,” Harris said. So she changed tactics. “I decided to do a photo/voice project. The women took pictures of what rest meant to them: places they get rest, things that are involved in their rest, and then they explain them in the group.”

Her findings were interesting—rest does not mean sleep. Sometimes the exact opposite was true. To some of the women, physical activity such as walking or swimming was one of their methods to getting rest.

“There are a couple of different components to rest: mental, physical and spiritual. Now that we know this, we can use that to more purposefully plan physical activity interventions to include those aspects, which should improve sustainability,” Harris said. 

In addition to teaching and finishing her degree, Harris has two other full-time jobs: wife and mother. Her keys to success? Planning and discipline. Her day planner is filled, broken down hour by hour. Before or after work, she’ll study in her office. She’ll come to the campus library on weekends to hammer out some of her dissertation, then puts it away to go home and be Mom. She wakes up early to get her own physical activity and then starts the cycle over again.

So, what is Harris’s definition of rest? “That changes over time. Sometimes it’s physical sleep. Sometimes it’s taking a break from the mundane. Last month, it was making a hair appointment and letting someone else wash my hair. Ways I can keep my stress level low is a lot of what rest means for me.”

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