Drexel Faculty Making an Impact: Dr. Maria Schultheis’s Clinical Research in the Department of Psychology

By Maia Livengood

January 28, 2010 — As a clinical neuropsychologist and an associate research professor in the Department of Psychology, Dr. Maria Schultheis's clinical and research experience focuses on the rehabilitation of cognitively impaired populations. Her studies examine the demands of operating an automobile and the indicators of driving aptitude. Her best known work, Handbook for the Assessment of Driving Capacity, is a resource for industry professionals on determining driving capacity for individuals who have experienced traumas such as stroke or dementia.

Considered a leader in her field, Dr. Schultheis didn't plan on entering psychology when she began her academic career. As a biology undergraduate, she was fascinated with the brain, and aimed to become a neurologist. During her work at Rutgers, she landed an internship in a brain injury rehabilitation program. "Working with individuals who had survived trauma to their brain-who somehow managed to move forward with life-was a huge inspiration for me," said Dr. Schultheis in a recent interview. "This helped confirm that I needed to do work that could help other people. Neurorehabilitation was a good fit for both my interest in neuroanatomy and my desire to help out others."

Today, Dr. Schultheis is the co-director of the Applied Neuro-Technologies Laboratory at Drexel, along with Dr. Douglas Chute. Their team focuses on ways to apply rehabilitation technologies to enhance the quality of life of individuals with traumatic brain injuries. Drs. Schultheis and Chute have succeeded in combining scientifically rigorous academic research with clinical needs, “Dr. Chute added the science component to my training,” noted Dr. Schultheis. “I was very much into clinical work and helping people but Doug taught me that I could do that and also help people [through] science and research.” Their research projects, such as Dr. Schultheis’ work with driving rehabilitation, center on developing criteria for defining behaviors, cognition technologies, and how both can be integrated for rehabilitation. In two recent projects, “Examining Learning and Memory in Virtual Office” and “Development of a Virtual Reality Driving Simulator,” Dr. Schultheis conducted research to test the possible application of virtual reality simulators on rehabilitation strategies.

Dr. Maria Schultheis's Clinical Research

As a professor, Dr. Schultheis believes that research is vital to undergraduates and graduates; so much so that she considers preparing future researchers in neuropsychology to be part of her job. When she encounters a student with great questions and critical thinking ability, she often invites them to join the lab: “I try to teach my undergraduates to expand their thinking of what research is and what it can contribute to psychology or any other field they choose.” Dr. Schultheis explained that research can be so much more than “chemicals and Bunsen burners” and notes that applying textbook learning to research can expand students’ critical thinking abilities. Additionally, students benefit from knowing that the research taking place in the Applied Neuro-Technologies has a significant human impact.

At the graduate level, Dr. Schultheis believes research plays a role in creating an independent thinker; it is no longer about learning what research is, but rather, understanding personal interests and how to conduct projects to answer highly specified questions. Of Schultheis’ mentorship, Dr. Chute remarked, “Maria is a great leader for students. She subscribes to the notions of what I consider true mentorship, that is as a guide and confidante, helping motivated and bright students self-actualize.”

Dr. Maria Schultheis's Clinical Research

In fact, it is Dr. Schultheis’ qualities as a mentor that attracted Valerie Weisser, a Master’s student, to the Department Psychology, and is also the primary reason she applied to the doctorate program in Clinical Psychology. Weisser commented, “The lab work I've conducted with Dr. Schultheis has had a very positive impact on my career and professional development as a clinical neuropsychologist. She is accessible and works hard to ensure that her student's needs are met while encouraging and fostering innovative research ideas.” Weisser has co-authored three manuscripts and several abstracts while working in Dr. Schultheis' lab, in addition to presenting at numerous professional meetings.

With a focus on students’ academic enrichment, Dr. Schultheis combats the accusation that research professors are too often out-of-touch with their classrooms: “The key to avoiding this stigma is the professor’s mentorship ability. Professors who are committed to their personal research, and who think of teaching as something that takes place beyond the classroom, can provide important instruction to students.” With her admirable contributions as a mentor, Dr. Schultheis succeeds in dismantling this stigma and serves as an exemplary model for student development.

For more information on the Applied Technologies Lab, please visit their site.

Maia Livingood '12 is a Business Administration major with concentrations in Finance and Economics, as well as an English minor. Working for the College of Arts and Sciences, she has developed a strong interest in publication management and hopes to build upon the experience throughout her professional career.