The constant support and encouragement students receive from faculty and staff in the St. Ambrose University Physical Therapy department is given freely–and generously. And they are wholly committed to doing even more to help students in the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program achieve their educational and professional goals.
This spring, the department awarded its first round of Physical Therapy Endowed Scholarships to three students. The recently-established endowment was funded by faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the department to recognize students who demonstrate leadership, positively contribute to the department or profession of Physical Therapy, and have financial need.
Faculty-funded endowed scholarships are not unusual at St. Ambrose. Our educators believe in the power of SAU degrees and the capacity for St. Ambrose students to impact their world. However, the Physical Therapy Endowed Scholarship fits a rare niche in the graduate studies realm.
"While our faculty have contributed to many scholarships established to honor colleagues or family members, the PT scholarship is the first to be established by departmental faculty to meet the financial needs of the graduate students in their program," said Associate Vice President for Advancement Sally Crino. "While undergraduate students have several sources of tuition assistance and scholarships, the availability is limited for graduate students, resulting in a large debt burden upon graduation."
The first Physical Therapy Endowed Scholarship recipients were Maria Sorenson, Elizabeth Schneider '20, and Leah Taylor '21.
"My family and I are so incredibly grateful," Taylor said, adding her family was financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. "Because of this endowed scholarship, I'm able to keep pursuing my passion of physical therapy."
Taylor will graduate next year and plans to work in an outpatient setting with geriatric patients. "They have so much wisdom, compassion, gratitude, and life experience to share," she said. "As a movement expert, I want to help them unlock their potential. Just because their age may say they're getting older, that doesn't mean they have to move like they are. I truly believe I can make a difference in this population's quality of life both as a physical therapist and as a friend."
The endowment has 62 unique donors; 14 are current or former faculty and staff. "One hundred percent of current department faculty contributed to the fund, and many made a multi-year commitment to grow the scholarship," said Michael Puthoff, PhD, Professor and Director of the Physical Therapy Department.
"We know the positive effect that our students have on society upon graduation," Puthoff added. "Whether it is empowering a person to recover from an injury, encouraging a healthy lifestyle to maximize the human experience, or serving their community, our graduates are making a difference. We felt it was important to create this scholarship to assist in their education."
Through this endowment, at least one scholarship will be awarded annually to a student who plans to work in a pediatric setting. The first such student is Sorenson.
"It truly is an honor to be chosen as one of the first recipients," Sorenson said. "This scholarship was funded by faculty and alumni, and I am proud to be a part of the St. Ambrose PT program which cares about their students and feels like a family. PT school takes a lot of hard work, and it means a lot to me to know that my time spent in the classroom, clinic, and community does not go unnoticed," she said.
"I chose this career path because I wanted to help people, and I saw how big of an impact physical therapy can have on returning people to doing the things they love. I knew that this degree would require extra schooling, which means student loans. To me, this price is worth it to have a job that I look forward to going to every day and makes a difference in people's lives. This scholarship allows me to worry a little less about how I am going to repay my loans and more on how I will help my patients," she added.
Puthoff said the SAU DPT program takes multiple steps to help students limit their debt, including designing the program to be completed in two and a half years versus the traditional three-year curriculum offered at other universities. That means SAU graduates enter the job market quicker. "Students also can enter the DPT program after only three years of undergraduate education versus other programs that require students to have their bachelor's degree completed before starting their graduate education," he said.
Puthoff said PT faculty hope to grow the endowment through additional donations from the people who best understand the program's value and impact.
"Our alumni know firsthand what a scholarship can mean to a successful physical therapy education," Puthoff said. "We know that not all of our alumni are in a place that they can donate right now. We hope that those who can, will consider a gift. Because it is an endowed fund where the interest is awarded each year, but the principle is maintained, we can continue to help a group of students every year with these scholarships.
"With a few more donations, especially from alumni and friends of the university who make a larger gift spread over a multi-year period, we can grow the fund and award more scholarships each year. We also encourage smaller donations from our community which all add up and help grow the opportunities for future students," he said.
If you'd like to support the Physical Therapy Department Endowed Scholarship click here to make a gift.