Dr. Mansoo Ko: Research Excellence
May 30, 2012
A native of Daegu, South Korea, Ko joined the ASU physical therapy program in 2008. Though still a junior faculty member, he was honored by the Faculty Senate with the 2012 ASU President’s Award for Faculty Excellence in Research/Creative Endeavor.
“As an assistant professor, I’m junior faculty and just on my way to developing my research career,” Ko said. “I have a good direction and I have good collaborators around me, so to win this award so early I think means that they see my potential and want to encourage me to move forward.”
“In order to understand fully, students need research experiences, then they can be on the same page as other therapists and operate in the real world.”
“I enjoy great benefits from working with senior faculty,” he added. “Coming from South Korea, there were many things I could not understand very well in the beginning in terms of research and English writing. But, I got a lot of help from my senior faculty and a lot of support from ASU through research enhancement and faculty development grants.”
A long-term research goal for Ko is to develop innovative rehabilitation strategies for the functional improvement of adults with neurological deficits due to strokes, traumatic brain injury, diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease. To that end, he conducts extensive research in ASU’s Gross Motor Analysis Laboratory that is stocked with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment.
“I am very interested in affected people’s motor programming in relation to their motion,” Ko said. “Visually, I can describe their motion, but I cannot explain how fast they are moving or their joint angles compared to unimpaired people. So I use my equipment to quantify the motions and then, in relation to their motor programming or neurological deficits, gauge the impact of their impairments.”
“I use the motion analysis equipment to convert the visual input into numbers,” he added, “so that we can provide specific information that all therapists can understand.”
To further expand his research efforts, Ko has initiated collaborations with several Tier I research universities in Texas, and recently completed a stroke research project with Texas Women’s University-Houston.
“By collaborating with schools in big cities like Houston or Dallas, I can use their resources to recruit subjects,” Ko said. “I can also get great input and utilize the research skills of their faculty. So collaboration, especially for human study, is really important these days.”
Also important to Ko is involving ASU physical therapy students in his research and mentoring individual student research projects. To date he has mentored eight student projects that were all presented at national and international conferences.
“Most clinicians these days determine treatments based on the evidence they see,” Ko said. “So, students should be able to understand and interpret that type of evidence. In order to understand fully, students need research experiences, then they can be on the same page as other therapists and operate in the real world.”
The opportunity to mentor doctoral students was also a big reason why Ko came to ASU from the University of Texas at El Paso.
“At the time, ASU physical therapy was making the dynamic move from a master’s to a doctoral program,” Ko said. “I was in a master’s program at UTEP, and ASU was a great opportunity for me to join the faculty of a doctoral program.”
“I also thought the research direction of the ASU faculty and their vision would benefit me to develop my research career along with my teaching career,” he continued. “My ASU colleagues are really great in terms of research collaboration.”
When ASU graduated its first class of doctoral students in May of 2012, Ko was one of the many proud spectators.
“I spent a lot of time with those students and observed them from the beginning to the end of their program,” Ko said. “I taught them classes and also worked side-by-side with them in the research lab. So, to see them graduate with their doctoral degrees was really a great moment for me.”
Seeing his doctoral students graduate just two weeks after he received the Faculty Excellence Award has already made 2012 a great year for Ko, and there is even more to come.
“This year is very special for me,” Ko said. “I turn 40 years old and then my wife and I will have our first baby. He will be born in September.”
Ko’s wife, Jung Eun Lee, is a visiting professor in ASU’s psychology program. In their limited spare time, the couple like to travel around Texas to familiarize themselves with their new home state. Ko also likes to play badminton in the ASU gym with Dr. Won Jae Lee of the criminal justice faculty, and pass on some of his skills as a black belt in taekwondo to his physical therapy students.
However, since he has set the bar so high so early in his career, much of Ko’s time is spent on his passion for research and readying his results for publication so they can benefit physical therapy patients everywhere.