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Taking on childhood trauma

With a scholarship-supported internship, Victoria Chambers broadened her understanding of how trauma affects children — and how she could help.

Be a world of good

Last summer, Victoria Chambers sat alongside small children and coached them as they tested motion-sensing video games. There was Ball Roll. Whack-a-Mole. Row Boat. And Giant’s Teeth, where the kids moved their wrists in a circular motion to brush plaque from a behemoth’s smile.

Games like these weren’t just for fun; Chambers, a UW senior, saw that repetitive movements, such as brushing teeth, help rebuild neural connections and restore strength and mobility. As a Mary Gates Innovation Scholar, she spent three months as an intern with UW startup MultiModal Health researching and developing games that help young victims of neuromuscular trauma get better.

“You can’t just look at a child as a victim of trauma, or a person who can’t move his or her hand. You have to look at a child as a person with a brain, a heart, a hand. A whole person.”

Having grown up in the Yakima Valley, a region long plagued by gangs, Chambers knows firsthand how violence destroys lives and families. She came to the UW to lay the foundation for a career as a child psychologist, and through her experience at MultiModal Health, she developed a more nuanced understanding of trauma of all kinds.

The CoMotion Mary Gates Innovation Scholarship gave me the push I needed to launch myself into research. It helped me realize that this is what I want to do.

Victoria Chambers teaches a young girl how to use the motion-sensing software she helped develop last summer at MultiModal Health.

Victoria Chambers teaches a young girl how to use the motion-sensing software she helped develop last summer at MultiModal Health.

“I learned a lot about the actual, physical brain connections you make while playing these games,” says Chambers, a double major in psychology, and early childhood and family studies. “It also helped me understand on a deeper level how any kind of traumatic experience can affect a child’s development.”

Her internship experience included researching occupational therapy techniques, examining family influence on the rehabilitation process, experimenting with new devices and even creating virtual illustrations.

Through the process of working with colleagues in neurobiology and rehabilitative medicine, she simultaneously sharpened and expanded her focus.

“I’m now interested in how the whole realm of development comes together: socioemotional, cognitive, memory and physical.”

Since her internship ended, Chambers has taken the reins on a research project of her own. Under the mentorship of Dr. Kate McLaughlin, principal investigator of the UW’s Stress and Development Lab, she is currently analyzing how stress influences emotional development in children—and how that, in turn, influences depression and anxiety.

As she prepares for the rigors of graduate studies in the fall, Chambers is grateful for the scholarship-supported experience that helped pave the way to her future.

“The CoMotion Mary Gates Innovation Scholarship gave me the push I needed to launch myself into research,” she says. “It helped me realize that this is what I want to do.”

CoMotion Mary Gates Innovation Scholars

The CoMotion Mary Gates Innovation Scholarship pairs driven students with UW startup initiatives through a full-time summer internship.

Innovation scholars work with up-and-coming innovators and entrepreneurs, addressing the grand challenges of our time. Learn more about how CoMotion drives innovation and makes an impact on our community.

Audio: Victoria Chambers talks inspiration, motivation and goals for the future

Angelica Reyna celebrates her daughter Victoria Chambers’ high school graduation.

Angelica Reyna celebrates her daughter Victoria Chambers’ high school graduation.

A legacy of helping others

Growing up in a family of migrant farm workers, Victoria Chambers’ mother, Angelica Reyna, spent many long, hot days in the fields of the Yakima Valley. She and her family picked whatever was in season: cherries, asparagus, apples. Life was hard, she says. “We would spend most of our time just working, working, working.”

Though Reyna endured many hardships as a child, there was an upside: She realized that she had a strong passion for helping others. She was a committed student, and even on days she worked in the fields, she’d spend her lunch breaks tutoring her struggling classmates in reading and math.

From tutor to educator, Reyna now teaches elementary and community college classes. She even spent time running an after-school program for troubled girls; years ago, a visit to that program kindled Chambers’ interest in child psychology. After watching her mother give extra attention to the students who needed it most — from making them laugh to fostering active learning — Chambers was inspired to help troubled children just like them.

“Victoria’s going to go all the way to get her doctorate, to be the first doctor in our family,” says Reyna. “I know she can do it, and she knows she can do it. It’s in her to go all the way.”


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