Belonging runs deep among physiotherapy students, faculty and staff

From supporting other students during the COVID-19 pandemic to running the Boston Marathon in honor of his mother and one of his teachers, Jacob Notinger’s experience in the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program exemplifies the community and connections the program promotes.

Jacob Notinger after completing the Boston Marathon (Added Photo)

Notinger ’20, ’23 (CAHNR) had an unconventional start to his graduate studies, finding a supportive community along the way. When Notinger launched the DPT program in fall 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced classes that were normally very hands-on in a virtual setting.

Despite the challenges it presented for new students, the experience united the 2020 cohort, Notinger says.

“The fact that it was COVID was a whirlwind for my whole class,” Notinger says. “It ended up bringing us together more than anything.”

Last April, Notinger ran the Boston Marathon and was sponsored by the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, raising $10,000 for the organization.

He ran in honor of his mother, who is battling cancer, as well as a member of his “UConn family”, Professor Deborah Bubela, who survived cancer. Notinger asked his fellow DPT students to sign a shirt for Bubela, whom he carried across the finish line.

“It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me,” Bubela says. “And he did that. He has an overview of goodness. He is truly a selfless and generous young man, like so many students in this program.

Small group, big bond

Each cohort of the DPT program consists of approximately 30 students. This small size helps foster meaningful connections between faculty and students, says Laurie Devaney, associate professor and director of DPT.

“Our program isn’t about competition, it’s about helping everyone succeed,” says Devaney. “When [our students] go out into the world, it is important not to see the person next to you as competition, but as someone on the same team.

As an undergraduate, Notinger worked closely with Devaney on research related to the work of the head of the kinesiology department, Lindsay DiStefano. The study compared students’ abilities to perform basic sports tasks, such as throwing or catching a ball, with their perception of how well they could accomplish this task.

Notinger’s positive undergraduate experience working with Devaney and other faculty and staff encouraged him to stay at UConn for his graduate studies.

He and the other member of the close-knit student cohort were able to return to their studies in person for their second year in the program. Entering their third year, DPT students will complete a series of internships across the country.

“We feel like we’re ready, even if it’s a circuitous route,” Notinger said.

Notinger begins with a clinical rotation at an outpatient facility in Massachusetts. In January, he will complete a specialty internship at Seattle Children’s Hospital, a highly sought-after position at the nationally renowned hospital, working with teenage athletes recovering from injuries.

Notinger always knew he wanted to study medicine, but didn’t know in what field. By his second year, he had decided to pursue a career in physical therapy, recalling his own experiences in physical therapy from his time as a student athlete.

“I’ve always liked the practical part and how you can help people and see improvements,” Notinger says.

Making a difference, one mile at a time

Bubela says Notinger exemplifies the kind of student the UConn DPT program celebrates: one who is motivated by a desire to help others.

“All of our students do this. [work] to help others and make a difference in the world,” says Bubela. “Jacob has certainly shown that in many ways.”

While Notinger says his marathon time didn’t break a record, he was proud to have finished, with cheers from his family and DPT supporters along the way.

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