Nursing Ph.D. Student Wins Mission Life Competition with Interdisciplinary Student Team

Shadi Kanan headshot
Recent nursing alum, Shadi Kanan, Ph.D. ’20, along with Alena Miskinis, undergraduate student in Music and English, and Xiangxu “Shawn” Lin, a graduate student in Computer Science, made up the winning Mission Life team, Virtual Harmony, at Kent State University’s competition held in October 2019. Created to engage students from all disciplines, Mission Life is a multi-institution competition that encourages the development of innovative designs, ideas, tools, resources and/or services to address a predetermined topic each year. The 2019 theme was Mental Health in the 21st Century.


The Virtual Harmony team created a device to address college student stress by incorporating two emerging medical treatments into one experience - music therapy and virtual reality. “You can choose the beach, the moon or any other natural serene location,” Kanan explained. “While you move, you are in the middle of a 360-degree real-life video with background music.” The musical selections available to users including a Grieg nocturne recorded by Miskinis and the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, which engage the sense of audition (hearing). Additionally, the team devised a way for participants to play virtual instruments, such as a piano, xylophone and a drum set, along with the background music, stimulating tactation for a truly unique and fully immersive relaxation experience. “When we put you inside this virtual environment where you are involved in playing an instrument, we can move you from a passive listener to an active participant,” Kanan said. “If you are anxious about something, the brain needs to move away from that stressful situation in order to rest. When you touch the virtual instruments, you hear the sounds they make which is an unexpected shock, or experience, that helps the brain move beyond its stressful state, allowing the body to transition towards relaxation.”   


The team went on to present their concept at the international competition at the Pontificia Universidade Catolica Do Parana (PUCPR) in Brazil on November 11, 2019, where they were awarded third place. They also presented their idea at the 10th IEEE Annual Computing and Communication Workshop and Conference at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, January 6 – 8, 2020, where they published their paper "Virtual Reality-Based Musical Therapy for Mental Health Management". The team is currently working to make Virtual Harmony commercially available for college students.


Through his work with Virtual Harmony, Kanan says he better understands the value of working with professionals in multi-disciplines. “As a nurse, I had previously believed we could only effectively work with multi-disciplines as such as medicine, radiology or health science. But Mission Life showed me that collaborating with multi-disciplines outside of healthcare, such as fashion, art or computer programing, can produce amazing results.” This experience also allowed Kanan to fully embrace working as an equal member in a team. “In the hospital, the physician is always the leader. We are still part of the team as nurses, but we have to follow the physician’s order,” Kanan commented. “With Virtual Harmony, no one specialty was more dominant than the other. The three parts, music, computer science and stress were all important and equally bonded together in our project. I profoundly believe this is an excellent example of how virtual reality could be used as an educational strategy for nursing education and patient care.”


Kanan, who graduated with his Ph.D. in nursing this past May, specializes in cardiac nursing. “I observed people in my home country of Jordan experience cardiac complications in early adulthood. My dissertation focused on the physical activity of cardiac patients.” He first came to Kent State University with his wife, Muntaha Alibrahim, who is also a nurse. “She graduated from Kent State’s Ph.D. in Nursing program in 2018. When we first came to Kent, I was impressed with the quietness and peacefulness of the city. As a student, I have enjoyed the small-town feel of the university and greatly appreciated the support of my Ph.D. faculty.”     


Mission Life originated in 2012 at the Pontificia Universidade Catolica Do Parana (PUCPR), located in Curitiba, Brazil, and grew to include partnerships with both the University of Incarnate Word (San Antonio, Texas) and Kent State University in 2016.

POSTED: Thursday, June 25, 2020 - 4:26pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, August 18, 2020 - 4:09pm
Mariah Gibbons