Doctor of Physical Therapy Commencement honors Class of 2020

During her commencement address, Dean Gail Jensen from Creighton University urged these 45 new graduates to develop habits of the heart as they develop their professional skills and careers.

Elon University celebrated the accomplishments of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program’s Class of 2020 on Saturday, Dec. 12 during its Commencement ceremony. The event recognized the triumph and perseverance of these 45 new Elon graduates as they completed their academic and clinical work with the added challenge of learning and practicing health care during a global pandemic.

In her commencement address, Dean Gail Jensen from the Graduate School and College of Professional Studies at Creighton University encouraged the new graduates to develop habits of not just the head and the hand, but of the heart.

“You have the privilege of the degree as well as the responsibility and obligations that come with that degree to serve patients, society, and the community in which you live, and the profession,” said Jensen, who is vice provost for learning and assessment, professor of physical therapy and faculty association at the Center for Health Policy and Ethics, in her recorded remarks. “We need your leadership and moral courage now more than ever.”

Jensen, who was introduced by Professor of Physical Therapy Education Charity Johansson, shared the three “C”s that will guide these new physical therapists during their careers — professional competence, professional calling and their status as a competent DPT graduate. “Five years from now when someone asks you about your education, you will not be sharing what knowledge you learned in PT school, but you will share many of the foundational elements of your professional formation, who you have become as an Elon DPT graduate.”

Jensen urged the graduates to become “master adaptive learners” who will focus on learning across their careers. The competence they have as graduates and will develop as professionals is “developmental and impermanent and grounded in the context of clinical practice,” Jensen shared.”Remember — we do not learn from experience alone, but we have to reflect on that experiences to make it count.”

Entering the profession during a pandemic and within a dynamic and changing health care industry presents challenges, but also opportunities, Jensen observed. Each graduate is responding to a calling to the profession, to helping people, which creates robust and well-rounded motivation, she said.

“Our professional identity –  public recognition and image of our profession will continue to be built on the actions and accomplishments of you – our Doctor of Physical Therapy graduates,” Jensen said. “We need physical therapists who know they have an absolute duty and can serve as moral agents and demonstrate respect for human dignity at all times. This is a strong theme in your program at Elon. Respect for human dignity has to be and has to remain the center of your moral compass.”

The three-year, full-time Doctor of Physical Therapy program emphasizes a patient-centered approach to the profession. The program includes science, research and 48 weeks of hands-on clinical practicums to reinforce what students learn in the classroom.

Each of the graduates in attendance in Alumni Gym received their diploma from Elon President Connie Ledoux Book. As new doctoral degree graduates, each received a hood that dons the colors jade, maroon and gold – jade to represent the field of physical therapy, and maroon and gold to represent the graduates’ Elon education. The graduates and others involved in the ceremony wore face coverings and were physically distanced.

The ceremony also included recognition for the program’s outstanding graduates. Faculty members presented four awards to students nominated and selected by their instructors and peers.

The department honored Nathan Bedel DPT ’20 with the Outstanding Research Award. Chelsea Comeau DPT ’20 was recognized for her exceptional altruism with the program’s 2020 Outstanding Service Award. The Outstanding Clinical Performance Award was presented to Rachel Mason DPT ’20, and Lindsay Bauer DPT ’20 was named the 2020 Overall Outstanding Student.

Hannah Buckingham DPT ’19 was presented with the program’s first Elon Sportgs Physical Therapy Residency Certificate.

Following the hooding ceremony, Book issued a charge to the graduates, encouraging them to carry the education and values they gained at Elon as they go on with their professional and personal lives, and to persevere through their future challenges.

On this day of graduation I charge you to be resilient and steadfast like the mighty oaks for which Elon is named,” Book told the new graduates. “I hope that each time you see an acorn or a full grown oak, you are reminded of the personal leadership you developed during your time at Elon.”

The ceremony also honored Elon DPT alumni and distinguished faculty for their work in the field.

The Rising Alumni Award was presented to Dana Tischler DPT’10, a board-certified pediatric specialist and assistant professor in the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions in Provo, Utah. Tischler teaches physical therapy courses on pediatrics, cardiovascular and pulmonary care, evidence-based practice and ethics. She is an active scholar, and she is pursuing a doctorate in health sciences, pediatric track, at Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions. Her clinical work focuses on treating medically complex infants, children and adolescents in an acute care setting. Tischler is an active member of the American Physical Therapy Association and she is a conference presentation reviewer.

The Outstanding Clinical Instructor Award was presented to Wes Rissell DPT’17, who serves as a senior clinician in the Health Outreach Program of Elon (H.O.P.E.) Clinic, a pro bono clinic managed by Elon’s physical therapy students. Rissell graduated from the West Chester University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology and exercise science in 2013. He received his Doctor of Physical Therapy from Elon University in 2017 and has worked in outpatient orthopedics at Cone Health for the past three years.

2020 Graduates of the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program

Haley Rachel Barak, B.A., Wheaton College (MA)

Lindsey Michelle Bauer, B.S., Elon University

Nathan Riley Bedel, B.S., St. Cloud State University

Sarah Joy Benson, B.S., Upper Iowa University

Peyton Anne Reisch Blankenship, B.S., University of Central Arkansas

Mackenzie Elizabeth Borrowman, B.S., Lindenwood University

Nicholas James Chiodo, B.S., Clemson University

Zachary C. Collins, B.S., Michigan State University

Chelsea Taylor Comeau, B.S., Oklahoma State University

Scott Shimizu Cornfield, B.S., New England College

Rory J. Cullen, B.A., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Jeremy Luke Davis, B.S., James Madison University

Kyle L. Edwards, B.S., St. Lawrence University

Samantha Leigh Everett, B.S., Anderson University

Emily Ann Fonke-Fritz, B.S., East Carolina University

Kristofer Colby Grant, B.S., The University of North Carolina at Wilmington

Stephen Ralph Gunderson, B.S., Appalachian State University

David A. Guthrie, Jr., B.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Claire Alice Hildebrand, B.S., University of South Carolina

Margaret Elizabeth Hoff, B.A., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Sarah Rose Hynes, B.S., James Madison University

Lisa Michelle Jerry, B.S., East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania

Abigail Jaclyn Leonard, B.S., North Carolina Wesleyan College

Kaitlin Kristy Lewis, B.S., The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Tracy Anne Llewellyn, B.S., Elon University, M.S., Georgia Southern University,

Natalia Theresa Martinez, B.A., Columbia University

Rachel M. Mason, B.S., Campbell University

Rebba Ann Maylone, B.S., Central Michigan University

Melissa Catherine McDonald, B.S., North Carolina State University

Samuel Brian Methot, B.S., University of New England

Ian Job Miller, B.S., University of Northern Colorado

Andrew Christopher Montenyohl, B.S., North Carolina State University

Caitlin Elizabeth Osborn, B.S., University of South Carolina

Emily Caroline Phillips, B.S., North Carolina State University

Carlie Peyton Pierce, B.S., Appalachian State University

Sarah Elizabeth Ramirez, B.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Kristen N. Schleich, B.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro,  M.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Raina Maleah Stevens, B.S., University of Central Florida

Brittani Elizabeth Sullivan, B.S., Clemson University

Virginia Elizabeth Thomas, B.S., Anderson University

Nicole Joy Turcotte, B.S., Indiana Wesleyan University

Connor Jeffrey Vice, B.S., University of South Florida

Seth Alan Von Rentzell, B.S., Appalachian State University

Kianna Julia Witherspoon Williams, B.S., Coastal Carolina University

Nan Yang, B.S., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University