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Small Grants Program

The Small Grants Mentee/Mentor Program accepts applications from NANN members interested in developing their research skills and/or initiating their own research study or evidence-based practice (EBP) project.

The call for applications closed on March 11, 2019. 

2018 Small Grant Recipients

Marliese Nist WebMarliese Nist, MS RNC-NIC

The Ohio State University College of Nursing
Inflammatory Mediators of Stress Exposure and Neurodevelopment in Very Preterm Infants

At what institute are you currently conducting your research?
The Ohio State University College of Nursing

What is the main focus of your research?
Stress exposure during the neonatal period significantly affects neurodevelopment in preterm infants, resulting in impairments in motor function, stress reactivity, and cognition. Identifying the important mediators of stress exposure and neurodevelopment is critical to the development of interventions to improve long-term outcomes. The overarching aim of my dissertation study is to determine the extent to which inflammation mediates the relationship between stress exposure and neurodevelopment and the effect of stress exposure on trajectories of neonatal cytokines.

How did receiving the NANN Research Institute’s Small Grant Award positively impact your career?
Receiving the NANN Small Grant will allow me to fully complete the aims of my dissertation study, providing a foundation upon which to build an independent program of research aimed at improving the NICU experience for preterm infants and decreasing the effects of early stress.

Why is your work important and how does it advance the field of neonatal nursing?
Due to the complex health care needs of very preterm infants and the many nursing and medical interventions required to ensure the survival of these vulnerable patients, stress exposure in the NICU is likely unavoidable. Through creative, innovative interventions, nurses may be able to improve outcomes by targeting the mediators of stress exposure and neurodevelopment that affect outcomes.

In what ways does NANN membership add value to your professional development?
NANN provides multiple, invaluable opportunities for professional networking and education. Moreover, NANN provides a forum for clinicians and researchers to discuss the needs of neonatal patients and to share research evidence to promote best practices for neonatal care.



Julie Vignato WebJulie Vignato, PhD RN RNC-LRN CNE

University of Iowa
Silent Suffering: The Lived Experience of Perinatal Pain and Depression

At what institute are you currently conducting your research?
University of Iowa

What is the main focus of your research?
My research focus is on comorbidities of perinatal mental illness and pain as they are separately prevalent, occurring between 18-78%. Both pain and depression, the most common perinatal mental illness, are physiologically linked through the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis. Yet little is known about the combined effects of pain and depression in perinatal women and their newborns. Separately, pain is linked with premature delivery, prolonged bedrest, prolonged hospital stays, and adverse maternal psychological effects. Similarly, depression is linked with premature delivery, decreased initiation of breastfeeding, and negative maternal bonding behaviors. Perinatal depression is also linked with neonatal/infant increased irritability, temperamental difficulties, and developmental delays up to 18 months of age.

How did receiving the NANN Research Institute’s Small Grant Award positively impact your career?
I am so excited and honored to be awarded NANN’s Small Grant Award as it is instrumental in allowing me to collect qualitative data, an initial step in a Precision Health program of research focusing on promoting the health and wellbeing of mothers and their newborns.

Why is your work important and how does it advance the field of neonatal nursing?
The need for the study of pain and depression in the maternal newborn dyad are evident due to the paucity of the literature on these topics and the potential adverse maternal newborn outcomes. While ACOG guidelines recommend screening for depression in perinatal women, similar recommendations do not exist for pain. The lack of pain screening guidelines is clinically significant. In the general population, depression treatment response is diminished among those with pain, yet little is known about these effects in pregnancy or on the newborn. In the emergent era of precision healthcare, there is a need to assess all variables that affect the maternal newborn dyad. Qualitative research, specifically phenomenology, is uniquely positioned to inform health science on specific understudied or unidentified variables from the woman’s perspective. Identifying unidentified variables or concepts is instrumental to inform implementation science in the screening and treatment of adverse maternal newborn outcomes.

In what ways does NANN membership add value to your professional development?
NANN membership promotes my professional development directly through practice, education, and research. I am able to learn and grow in neonatal research techniques and resulting maternal newborn findings. I learn from networking with other NANN members and NANN educational opportunities the latest neonatal practice techniques, that in turn, I share with my pediatric prelicensure nursing students.




Wanli Xu WebWanli Xu, RN PhD

University of Connecticut, School of Nursing
The Impact of Stress and Gut Inflammation on Neurodevelopmental Outcomes in Extremely Preterm Infants

At what institute are you currently conducting your research?
The original study is conducted Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. This study uses a secondary data analysis approach. We will use the clinical data and bio-samples that are collected from the original study to answer the specific research question in this study.

What is the main focus of your research?
My long-term clinical and research interests focus on the bio-behavior measurement of neonatal pain and stress and neurobehavioral outcomes, translational research in the alteration of neurobehavioral function through brain-gut-microbiome signaling systems and gut inflammation. I am specifically interested in finding out the factors that contributes to the neurodevelopment outcomes in preterm infants and further developing interventions to promote the health outcomes in this vulnerable population.

How did receiving the NANN Research Institute’s Small Grant Award positively impact your career?
As a post-doctoral fellow, this proposed study will provide me an opportunity to work in a multi-disciplinary team and todevelop and practice the skills that are necessary in conducting bio-behavioral and translational research. This proposed project will also expand the body of knowledge on the interplay between pain/stress, gut inflammation and neurodevelopmental outcomes. Understanding the mechanisms will potentially provide a non-invasive marker to detect chronic pain and stress in extremely preterm infants.

Why is your work important and how does it advance the field of neonatal nursing?
Nearly 40% of infants born very preterm display developmental deficits. Previous studies show increased exposure to painful and stressful procedures in early life can change brain anatomy and impair babies’ neuro-behavioral outcomes. However, we still haven’t fully understood the mechanisms. Based on our previous research, we hypothesized that gut inflammation plays a key role in linking the cumulative pain/stress and preterm infants’ neurodevelopmental outcomes. We will use Fecal Calprotectin, a non-invasive biomarker tested in infants’ stools to measure gut inflammation and to predict neurodevelopmental outcomes in preterm infants. The study will establish a feasibility test using the non-invasive bio-marker as predictors of neurodevelopmental outcomes. It will also provide the clinician and nursing researcher the capability to use advanced bio-behavior knowledge in predicting and enhancing health outcomes in high-risk infants.

In what ways does NANN membership add value to your professional development?
NANN provided several great platform (e.g., journal, annual conferences and online discussion board) for me to connect with other neonatal researchers and clinicians with similar research interests and to share, communicate and disseminate ideas and information. NANN has also provided me the resources to learn and grow as a neonatal researcher. In the past, I have conducted two surveys through the discussion board that are critical in developing my program of research. This NANN small grant will give me valuable opportunity to develop and critical skills as an independent researcher.



Research Project Outline

Evidence-Based Practice Project Outline


The purpose of the NANN mentored research and EBP proposal grant program is to build the research study and EBP project capacity of neonatal nurses. Through a productive mentor-mentee relationship this award provides neonatal nurses who have not been previously engaged in writing research or EBP proposals or who have not been successful in obtaining previous funding to begin a research or EBP project in an area of interest.

Amount of Grant Funding

Awards are limited to $5000. Up to three grants will be awarded for the year 2019. The funding cycle begins November 1 and ends October 31 of each year. Awards will be made to the grantees’ institution.


  • Mentee: The Principal Investigator for this research or EBP project is the Mentee and may be a nurse, a graduate student, a post doctorate or junior faculty. Those with previous external funding for a single award greater than $25,000 direct costs are ineligible.
  • Mentors: The Mentor is someone who can guide and support the mentee in developing her or his research or EBP project skills. The mentor should possess leadership skills; and knowledge, skills and expertise in designing and conducting research or EBP studies. The mentor should be willing to commit, actively guide, counsel, and foster the mentee’s growth. The mentor should have a history of successful EBP or research activities.

The mentee must be a member of the National Association of the Neonatal Nurses. Proof of membership must be submitted with the application. Mentors need not be members of NANN however they do need to possess the skills as listed above to guide the mentee in this project. If a mentor cannot be easily identified by the mentee, please contact the NANN office for assistance. There is a strong preference that the mentor be a nurse.

Criteria for Scoring Proposals

Use the links below for guidance about how proposals will be reviewed and scored.
EBP Project Review Criteria
EBP Project Score Sheet
Research Project Review Criteria
Research Project Score Sheet

Appropriate and inappropriate use of funds

Funds can be used for supplies, small item equipment, technical services, travel directly related to the project, and expenses related to conducting the project.
Funds cannot be used for salary support, student tuition, books and school supplies, professional organizations membership fees. Funding up to $1000 can be designated in the budget for travel to present the results of the project at NANN's Annual Conference. These funds may only be used for presentation of completed funded projects by the Mentee, not for projects in progress. No travel funds may be requested to present at nursing meetings other than the NANN Annual Conference. It is our intent to support the growth of research and EBP projects and dissemination of best practices within NANN and thus funding for travel to other meetings is not allowable.

Terms of the award and accountability

Within 30 days of completion of the project recipients must submit a One Page Progress Report to the NANN Board of Directors explaining how project objectives were met and how the funds were used. Recipients must participate in the NANN Annual Conference abstract submission process upon completion of their project. Recipients also are encouraged to disseminate project findings via the NANN paper presentation sessions and neonatal peer reviewed journals. If recipients intend to publish, they must first submit their manuscript to Advances in Neonatal Care. All presentation and publications should acknowledge the support of NANN Research Institute.

Notification and release of funds

Approval by the institutional review board is not required at the time of submission of proposals for review for potential funding. Evidence of IRB review (if applicable) is required for release of funds.

Application deadline and submission

Applications are due on March 1st of each year. All applications must contain all required parts and must be submitted completely to be eligible for award.

Before drafting your Proposal:

Is this an EBP Project or a research study?

Whether a proposed study should follow the procedure for an EBP project versus a traditional research proposal can sometimes be confusing. Therefore, NANN provides the information below to assist potential mentees in making this determination prior to proposal development.

What is the difference between Research Studies and Evidence-Based Practice Projects?

Research Studies are conducted with the intent of generating new evidence or strengthening existing evidence related to a clinically relevant nursing problem. Research projects are guided by a conceptual framework that allow research questions to be answered and/or hypotheses to be tested. Existing research studies are critically reviewed to justify the need for new or strengthened evidence (i.e., significance of the study). The description of a research project would include background and significance, methodology (design, sample, setting, valid and reliable data gathering strategies, data analysis), interpretation of results and implications for nursing practice and future research. IRB review is mandatory.
Evidence-Based Practice Projects are conducted with the intent of either generating a clinical practice guideline or implementing a practice recommendation in a particular setting based on existing evidence. Evidence- based clinical practice guidelines/practice changes must incorporate patient preferences as well as expert clinical judgment. Existing research studies are critically reviewed to determine the quality of available evidence that would justify implementation of the specific practice change. The description of an EBP project would include the background and significance of the problem, how research evidence was obtained and evaluated, steps taken to implement the practice change, barriers to implementation, analysis of nursing and patient outcomes, and recommendations for next steps related to practice, education, or future research. Outcomes of an EBP project applied to a clinical setting should be compared to what research has previously found in a more controlled environment. IRB review may be needed for an EBP project if outcome data are collected from human subjects.

What to do if the answer to this question remains unclear?

If you are uncertain whether your project better fits criteria for an EBP project versus a traditional research study, it may be helpful to consider your project within the context of an EBP model. While there are many EBP Models currently in use, the Iowa Model is one that can assist in making the determination of whether sufficient evidence exists for a practice change to be made (EBP project route), or whether the current literature base is insufficient and requires more discovery work (i.e. traditional research study).

The Small Grants Program aims to build the research capacity of neonatal nurses. We are proud of the contributions made to neonatal nursing by our past Small Grants recipients


The Small Grants Program is sponsored in part by:

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