Category: Physical Therapy

Group selfie of physical therapy students in a classroom waiting to learn the results of the VCU-Marquette Challenge

UD places 2nd in VCU-Marquette Challenge

July 25, 2022 Written by Amy Cherry | Photos submitted by Marina Kissner and Kaitlyn Welsh

Physical therapy students raise $20K+ for Foundation for Physical Therapy Research

David Ebaugh "pieing" PT assistant professor Daniel White in front of DPT students and fundraising chairs Marina Kissner and Julia Solderitch during the Pie Time fundraiser
Physical therapy students raise money for Pie Time, or the chance to pie a professor in the face for the VCU-Marquette Challenge. (L to R Physical Therapy professor David Ebaugh, PT assistant professor Daniel White, and DPT students and fundraising chairs Marina Kissner, Julia Solderitch)

For the second year in a row, University of Delaware physical therapy (PT) students gave back to their profession and placed second in the VCU-Marquette Challenge.

Led by fundraising chairs, second-year doctorate of physical therapy students Marina Kissner and Kaitlyn Welsh, and third-year students, Julia Solderitch and Paige Nonnenmacher, UD PT students raised more than $20,000 for Foundation for Physical Therapy Research, the only national nonprofit solely dedicated to funding physical therapy research. A main scholarship provided by the foundation goes to physical therapists pursuing a Ph.D. in a PT-related field

“Every year, two to four UD students are successful in obtaining one of those scholarships which is fantastic,” Darcy Reisman, chair of UD’s Physical Therapy Department, a #1 ranked graduate program by U.S. News & World Report within the College of Health Sciences.

This year, two UD PT Ph.D. students, Hayley Smitheman and Ashwini Sansari, are among 22 physical therapy students nationwide to benefit from funding from the Foundation for Physical Therapy Research. Smitheman is studying insertional Achilles tendinopathy to optimize individualized treatment strategies. Sansari received the Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy Award from the foundation for research on neuromotor control of walking balance in children with cerebral palsy.  

To raise funds for the VCU-Marquette Challenge, Kissner, Welsh and other students organized a variety of events, including a UD PT mug sale, restaurant fundraiser, a continuing education course, and the highlight: Pie Time, where students can donate to pie a professor in the face. On June 27, the group gathered, with ice cream from UDairy, for a live watch party to learn they’d won second place in the VCU-Marquette Challenge.

“Research is always important in physical therapy, so we know that we’re always using best practices in medicine for our patients, so I thought it was a great way to give back to the school and the physical therapy community as a whole,” Kissner said.

Welsh said coming out of COVID-19, their fundraising efforts were a good way to bring people back together.

“It was an opportunity to make connections, and there’s faculty within our own PT Department who’ve benefitted from the Marquette Challenge,” Welsh said.

In addition to students, Reisman said multiple faculty members within the department have been beneficiaries of grant funding from Foundation of Physical Therapy Research over the years.

“The foundation provides seed funding that helps investigators in the early stages of research that they can then leverage to go for larger federal grants. That’s proven to be a very successful model,” Reisman said.

Among the beneficiaries, Daniel White, an assistant professor of physical therapy, who received a $40,000 Geriatrics Research Grant from the foundation to investigate physical activity in older adults with knee osteoarthritis in large existing datasets in 2010. This award from the foundation is given to an emerging investigator for research that addresses an area of high impact and priority for improving the practice of physical therapy in aging adults.

“When I received the Geriatrics Research Grant, my back was against a wall. I needed that funding to continue my research, and thank goodness it came through. Ultimately, the grant afforded me the ability to publish several major articles, which helped establish myself within the arthritis community as a noteworthy clinical investigator,” White said.

Kissner is working in the Sports and Orthopedic unit at UD’s PT Clinic and loves helping people improve their lives.

“Physical therapy is a hands-on way to help patients and build one-on-one relationships with them and see their growth through the weeks and months that they’re with us,” said Kissner. “The growth I’ve seen in some of my patients in just six weeks is astronomical. It’s nice to know that the work we’re doing with them in PT is allowing them to do something that, maybe, they haven’t done in 10 years because it was too painful.”

Welsh was inspired to be a physical therapist by her own injuries. With a history of patellar dislocations, she’s been in PT at various times for the past decade. Now, she’s working in the Neurological and Older Adults unit of UD’s PT clinic.

“I had a patient considering surgery because they were in so much pain. They were skeptical at first, thinking, ‘There’s no way exercise is going to help anything, absolutely not.’ And after a certain number of visits and at the end of their treatment, they’re blown away. They’re so thankful,” she said. “I love improving their functionality and contributing to their recovery. Those moments are why I do it,” Welsh said.

Each year, the Marquette Challenge bears the name of the top fundraiser. For the past two years, it’s been named the VCU-Marquette Challenge for Virginia Commonwealth University. Both Welsh and Kissner hope one day the effort will be called UD-Marquette Challenge.

“I think it’s great that we were able to raise that much money on behalf of the program because I know that money will be used to help fund physical therapists—not just in Delaware, but across the country—and better the profession. It’s exciting to know that in a few years when their research studies come out, we’ll know that some of the money that we helped raise directly impacted that work,” Kissner said.

Reisman said UD’s PT students are incredibly motivated.

“In the classroom and the clinic, they see the benefits of science and research in our profession. It’s really personal to them. They see the impact of these funds, and that helps energize them,” Reisman said. “We’re extremely proud of them for this effort and for all that they do. They’re an amazing group of students, who are incredibly service-oriented. Despite the demands of UD’s PT program, they find time for these fundraisers and other service opportunities. I’m always amazed by what they come up with next.”


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