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Associate Professor
Project Director, UAB Spinal Cord Injury Model System

Areas of Interest
Spinal Cord Injury, Exercise, Fitness, Activities of Daily Living, Wheelchairs, Mobility, Functional Independence, Outcome Measures


Dr. Cowan received her B.A degree in Physical Education from UNC-Wilmington, her M.S. in Health and Exercise Science from Wake Forest University, her PhD in Rehabilitation Science and Technology from the University of Pittsburgh, and post-doctoral training at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami.

She began her research career at UNCW with an honors project assessing if undergraduate students could accurately estimate their physical fitness level. As a master’s student her focus was low intensity exercise interventions and functional outcomes in ambulatory adults age 80 years or older. Her doctoral studies brought her to the world of manual wheelchair propulsion, with a specific focus on how changes in wheelchair weight and rear axle position influenced propulsion biomechanics. As a post-doc, she applied her content knowledge gained as an M.S. student to persons with SCI.

Dr. Cowan’s research philosophy is to conduct research that can be immediately applied by clinicians and patients. The global theme of her research is development, testing, and deployment of cost effective fitness, mobility, and assistive technology interventions that improve independence, decrease burden of care and enhance quality of life in PMR populations.

Her current research projects include: a) defining what level of fitness and ‘skill’ are required for non ambulatory individuals with SCI to independently perform transfers to and from the bed, car, shower, and ground and b) defining how changes in fitness and wheelchair configuration can meaningfully reduce the effort required to propel a manual wheelchair

Education & Training

PhD, University of Pittsburgh

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