Student Spotlight: Kelly Hawkins

RSD student, Kelly HawkinsKelly Hawkins, PT, DPT, NCS, is a third-year Rehabilitation Science Ph.D. student and is mentored by Dr. Emily Fox.

What has been your experience in the Rehabilitation Science program?

My experience within the Rehabilitation Science program has involved a variety of outstanding opportunities, many of which take place outside of the classroom.  For example, I am involved in research projects at both the VA’s Brain Rehabilitation Research Center in Gainesville as well as the Brooks Rehabilitation Clinical Research Center in Jacksonville. In both centers, being part of a research team creates the opportunity to learn from rehabilitation scientists, engineers, and clinicians. My exposure to multiple studies has also allowed me to observe all stages of the research process, assist in intervention and assessment sessions, and analyze data. Additionally, these projects provided opportunities for me to present our research at local and national conferences, assist in the development of grant applications and write manuscripts.

What have you enjoyed most about the program?

Most of the individuals in the program are not physical therapists. Instead, they have backgrounds in areas such as neuroscience, speech and language pathology, physiology or exercise science. I have enjoyed the rich conversations in classes and seminars that are created by the diverse perspectives we all bring to the program.

What are you currently researching? 

My area of research is the neural and biomechanical control of walking after neurological injury. Initially, my research projects focused on walking adaptability, which is the ability to modify the basic stepping pattern to account for environmental constraints and to meet task objectives (e.g. maneuvering in traffic, uneven terrain negotiation). Walking adaptability is crucial for successful ambulation in the home and community. After a stroke, almost three-quarters of individuals report difficulty ambulating in the outdoor community setting. Despite this, most post-stroke research has focused on steady-state walking. Therefore, my research aimed to address this gap and focused on deficits in walking adaptability in adults post-stroke and the underlying control mechanisms. Specifically, I have examined prefrontal brain activation using functional near infrared spectroscopy during walking adaptability tasks and also analyzed the biomechanical control of backward walking. My final dissertation project will apply my knowledge and experiences gained to an investigation of walking recovery after incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI). Following SCI, recovery of the basic reciprocal stepping pattern is limited by insufficient excitation of spinal cord networks. Therefore, my research will test the hypothesis that transcutaneous spinal direct current stimulation, applied during a walking training protocol, alters spinal cord excitability and augments motor activation during reciprocal stepping in adults with SCI. Overall, my dissertation research addresses critical gaps in understanding walking control after neurologic injury and aims to advance the development of novel interventions to restore walking.

What awards have you received and what have you published or presented?


2017 Promotion of Doctoral Studies I Scholarship, Foundation for Physical Therapy

2017 Academy of Neurologic Physical Therapy Post-Professional Student Research Award, APTA Combined Sections Meeting

2016 Travel Award, Graduate Student Council, University of Florida

2016 Travel Award, Annual Research Day, UF College of Public Health and Health Professions

2016 3rd place, Robert Levitt Research Awards, Institute for Learning in Retirement

2015 Florence P. Kendall Post-Professional Doctoral Scholarship, Foundation for Physical Therapy


Hawkins KA, Fox EJ, Daly JJ, Rose DK, Christou EA, McGuirk TE, Otzel DM, Butera KA, Chatterjee SA, Clark DJ. Prefrontal over-activation during walking in people with mobility deficits: interpretation and functional implications. Human Movement Science. 2018; 59: 46-55.

Hawkins KA, Clark DJ, Balasubramanian CK, Fox EJ. Walking on uneven terrain in healthy adults and the implications for people after stroke. NeuroRehabilitation. 2017;41(4):765-774.


Hawkins KA, Vistamehr A, Balasubramanian CK, Conroy C, Rose DK, Clark DJ, Fox EJ. Post-stroke community ambulators demonstrate deficits in backward walking. Combined Sections Meeting of the American Physical Therapy Association. New Orleans, LA. February 2018.

Hawkins KA. Backward walking impairments in post-stroke community ambulators. Neuromuscular Plasticity Noons. University of Florida. Gainesville, FL. July 2017.

Hawkins KA, Fox EJ, Daly JJ, Rose DK, Christou EA, Nadeau SE, Otzel DM, Butera KA, Chatterjee SA, Rajaravivarma R, Ring SA, Emery H, Clark DJ. Quantifying the executive demand of walking with fNIRS neuroimaging. World Congress, International Society of Posture and Gait Research. Ft. Lauderdale, FL. June 2017.

Hawkins KA. Thinking about walking: functional neuroimaging demonstrates increased demand for executive control of walking in adults with mobility deficits. Combined Sections Meeting of the American Physical Therapy Association. San Antonio, TX. February 2017.

Hawkins KA. Executive control of locomotion in adults with mobility impairments. Neuromuscular Plasticity Noons. University of Florida. Gainesville, FL. June 2016.

Hawkins KA. Functional neuroimaging during walking quantifies demand for executive locomotor control. College of Public Health and Health Professions Research Day. University of Florida. Gainesville, FL. April 2016.

Hawkins KA. Thinking about walking: functional neuroimaging of executive control utilization. Institute for Learning in Retirement. Gainesville, FL. March 2016.