Alumni Update: Building Upon my Hope College Foundation

By Emily Smith (’15)

During the first year of graduate school, when the material is the most overwhelming and free time is a myth, you find yourself building strong bonds with your colleagues as you commiserate about the journey ahead of you and reminisce about all the different paths that brought you together. At the University of Montana, my physical therapy class consisted of previous school teachers, construction workers, massage therapists, horse breeders, collegiate athletes, and freshly minted college graduates. Regardless of where we had come from, we all had the common grit and determination that comes with working hard to achieve high goals. Unanimously, we knew that was how we would survive graduate school too—pressing on with no intention of stopping now.

As we conquered physical therapy school together, I gave thanks on more than one occasion for how well prepared I felt by my Hope College undergraduate degrees (Exercise Science and Spanish). Any statistic can speak to the small class sizes at Hope College, which for me created a safe environment to foster my intellectual curiosity and integrity. But what statistics can’t show you is how exceptional the professors are—all of whom learned my name, even in the “larger” lecture halls. Having this personal connection with the professors encouraged me to succeed. I was not just another face in the crowd. From these relationships came powerful role models, lofty expectations, and personalized letters of recommendation that defied the generic mold. I’m sure these further enabled my success. It’s no wonder all the places Hope students have gone.

More than that, though, I felt Hope College prepared me for the pace and rigor that grad school tosses at its students. That first year of grad school is still the most difficult challenge that I have taken on to date, but I discovered that I had the foundation of solid knowledge and the study skills to do more than just memorize material. Suddenly, we have practical examinations that need us to demonstrate not only academic mastery, but the ability to perform under pressure with confidence and social competence. Suddenly, everything matters more than grades. I am dealing with real pain and human lives now. Some of my grad school peers really struggled under that pressure. I felt that the small lab class sizes in Hope College’s kinesiology department, with hands-on application, had provided the perfect stepping stone for success for me.

By talking with my PT classmates, I also realized just how much the Hope College pre-health professional advisor had done for me. This service is nearly non-existent at other schools, which baffles me considering how overwhelming the whole process is—even with help. At Hope, the pre-health professional advisor met one-on-one with each of her students applying to grad schools to review resumes, revise essays, and double check that credit requirements had all been met. She was both challenging and reassuring—letting us know that we were setting our sights high, but at the same time, that is exactly what Hope College had prepared us for.

Emily is seen here competing for the Flying Dutch track and field team.

My kinesiology department academic advisor, Dr. Maureen Dunn, also deserves huge thanks. She knew me by name. She knew which sport I played, which degree my younger sister was also pursuing at Hope (now a proud, successful nursing graduate!), and where I wanted my bachelor’s degrees to take me. She encouraged me and helped me reason through different career paths until I decided on physical therapy. I also was able to interact with her as my professor. She is one who recognizes a student’s potential and isn’t afraid to push them to get there. The challenge presented by her classes lead to deeper retention in subject areas that I continue to use as I further my career and education.

With the intimacy that Hope College’s education provided, I was guided to become a confident and capable student who went on to become the president of my graduate school class for the Physical Therapy Student Association. I was awarded a variety of scholarships and awards for leadership, patient and peer relationships, and academic achievement from both my faculty and my classmates, culminating with the Vince Wilson Outstanding Achievement Award, which they tout as their “highest honor” awarded to only one student in the entire school. I feel so blessed by the successes I have found with this phase of my life. All of my future patients and I owe many thanks to the kinesiology faculty at Hope for the exceptional experience and opportunities they provided to succeed.

My plans, now that I have graduated with my doctorate and passed boards with a license to practice, are to attend the University of Utah’s Orthopedic Residency program to become a specialist in the field of orthopedics. This will consist of a personal patient caseload, as well as, research, mentoring, volunteering, and teaching at the University of Utah. I hope to continue to pay forward the model of caring, compassionate instruction that I received from Hope College professors to foster my own students’ successes someday.