Kate Metcalf

Health disco OG image
Kate Metcalf

Kate Metcalf

Health disco academic program
Public health, health tech
healthy disco cohort year

Research Reflection

Hi! My name’s Kate, I'm a sophomore studying accounting and public health with an option in health management and policy. For the past six months I’ve had the eye-opening opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary research between the College of Health and the College of Engineering. Through Professor Naomi Fitters’ SHARE Lab and the URSA Engage program, I have been involved in research on human-robot interaction in skilled nursing facilities. The research I have been exploring looks into these interactions to help inform and imagine how robotics can be used to benefit the social well-being of residents in clinical care settings. During this time, I’ve learned more than I could have imagined about robotics, human interactions, various software tools, and socially assistive robotics, but I also learned a larger lesson on what interdisciplinary research entails and the value it provides.


The SHARE Lab has prioritized its cross-disciplinary connections among researchers in robotics, gerontology, human development, public health and other fields. This emphasis on cross collaboration is what stood out to me the most about the SHARE Lab. Walking into Graf Hall for my first lab meeting, I knew that I had an opportunity to learn about a completely new area of study. While at first being surrounded by the buzz of the various fabrication labs was intimidating, it soon became a reminder of how lucky I was to be able to experience and contribute to this unique form of research.

Kate Metcalf and others

My role in this project was to conduct video annotations of interactions between residents of a local skilled nursing facility and a robot, which conducted various social activities. This task entailed identifying significant behaviors, gestures and expressions that could provide insight into the social impact this robot could have on residents. The software ELAN was used to annotate videos and structure a system of organizing different significant observations. This process involved collaborating with engineers on the team and providing feedback on how video collection could be improved, as well as working alongside gerontology experts on how interactions among older adults can be characterized.

Kate Metcalf's research poster

Although the lessons I have learned about data collection, qualitative metrics, human-robot interactions and my brief survey of robotics will stay with me, the experience of pushing myself to explore a new academic field has left the biggest impact. I know that whatever my future career or academic pursuits look like I will be better off because of my experiences working with people and disciplines whom I otherwise wouldn’t have crossed paths with.

Why did you choose the College of Health at OSU to pursue your studies?

I was drawn to the College of Health because I appreciated how Oregon State had a clear commitment to population health through its actions and interdisciplinary academics. One persuading aspect of OSU was its deep involvement with research and public health practice. That fact I can say that I go to a school, and am actively involved with, some of the world's leading research that allows people to live longer, healthier lives is amazing and fulfilling in so many ways. It was clear to me that the COH at OSU cares about its students, its local community, and the field of population health sciences.

What sparked your interest in health?

My interest in health and public health stemmed from a broader appreciation of many different fields. I was interested in the infectious disease bio of epidemiology just as much as the policy that runs our health systems. I found a home for my varied academic interests in public health, which is an inherently interdisciplinary field. The holistic ‘systems thinking’ perspective taken by this field is a way of thinking that I am comfortable with and have found to be academically satisfying.

Why are you interested in research?

Research was originally something that really excited me, but I was initially intimidated by the opportunities in front of me. I have since found that my involvement in research has built my confidence in my career path and my academic abilities. Witnessing and contributing to novel technologies and innovations is something that appeals to me. Additionally, research is an opportunity for me to explore new academic areas that interest me that are outside the scope of my coursework. I appreciate how through research I am exposed to new areas and skill sets.

What research will you be working on and with whom?

I am currently involved with research through the SHARE lab with Professor Naomi Fitter. The SHARE lab’s research focuses on human-robot interactions and the creation of socially assistive robots for health care settings.

What are your future career and/or academic plans?

My career goal is ultimately to work on the enterprise side of new health innovations. Working in public health consulting or the growing field of health tech are both industries that interest me as potential career possibilities. After graduation, I plan on going on to graduate school and hopefully earning my Master of Public Health degree.


The Healthy Discoveries undergraduate research program is made possible with the generous support of the Patricia Valian Reser Fund for Experiential Learning.