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School of Health Sciences and Human Performance | Exercise Science
“My job is pretty cool, especially on those days when I get to fly in an F-18.” For Pat Dougherty, those flights are the culmination of years of study that started at Ithaca College.
The exercise science graduate had always played sports, but his professors turned him on to running studies, which he immediately found himself drawn to. “I was curious about how the body worked and exercise physiology is a lot about running at its core. If I was going to study it, I might as well do a lot of it. So that’s when I started running marathons and since then I’ve switched to triathlons.”
Pat’s passion for exercise science led him to pursue his master’s degree and later his doctorate, but that’s where things took a turn. “I realized an academic career wasn’t for me. I wanted something a little more exciting, so I applied and was eventually commissioned as a lieutenant in the Naval aerospace physiology program in 2009.”
Now Pat spends his days providing training for anyone in the service who might be involved in flying. The physiological threats a member of a flight crew can be exposed to include hypoxia, which is a special disorientation that occurs when there isn’t enough blood flow to the brain. This happens sometimes in flights that reach multiple g-forces, and it can have catastrophic results. One of the tools Pat has at his disposal is the only “high-G” human centrifuge in the U.S. Navy, which spins its subjects under multiple g-forces to mimic the sensations hypoxia may bring.
“It’s like a wicked carnival ride. There’s a big motor in the center, and we spin them around in this room, which exposes them to increased accelerations like they would feel in the air. I’ve gone through it a few times, so I can safely say that it’s pretty intense.”
Come February, Pat will move to Corpus Christi, where he will become an air medical safety officer. It’s another challenge he feels completely ready for. “I haven’t taken the most linear path since I left Ithaca, but everything I learned on South Hill has helped push me to the next level of my career.”
>> More on this story: Watch a video of pilot training in the human centrifuge
In high school, I considered myself a pretty good student. Most of my friends took the same classes I did and knew they wanted to be biomedical engineers, environmental scientists, or doctors someday. I was confident in my abilities and had plenty of ideas about my interests, but I wasn’t prepared at 18 to make what I thought was a huge choice. When I was looking for colleges, I wanted a school that acknowledged that it takes time and experience to make that decision. Ithaca College’s Exploratory Program offered me just that.
The Exploratory Program provided me with so many resources. I took a course specifically designed to help college students discover their passions. My faculty advisor, Elizabeth Bleicher, asked me focused questions to reveal potential majors that might suit both my personality and abilities.
In high school I enjoyed physics, and I knew coming in that I wanted to take a college-level course on the subject. Professor Bleicher referred me to Professor Michael “Bodhi” Rogers. His passion is infectious. After completing the introductory class, I realized that I loved physics. I like the logic involved in it. It’s not about memorization—it’s about problem-solving in real life. That intellectual challenge is exactly what I was looking for in my college experience.
The enthusiasm of the people in the physics department also really impressed me. They’re totally dedicated to using a teaching style based on the most current research about how students best learn. I had a class in the performance-based physics classroom—a collaborative learning environment where the professor is in the center with projectors all around, and students are seated in groups so that they can discuss questions before answering. It was one of the most powerful educational experiences I have ever had.
By talking to my faculty advisor and professors, I learned what I can do with a physics major. I can be anything from an engineer to a lawyer or teacher. Educators in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) are in demand, and teaching is something I’m definitely interested in. Physics majors score well on law school entrance tests, and I accepted a summer internship working in the legal department of a technologies corporation. The idea that I could major in a subject that was really important, had a great job outlook, and would still let me do a variety of different things down the road really appealed to me.
I also visited Career Services as part of my exploration, and they helped me discover ways my preferences could be matched with potential careers. That led me to realize that I could actually pursue multiple interests. Now, not only am I a physics major, but I am also a business administration minor.
The Exploratory Program was the reason I came to Ithaca College. Though I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, I didn’t like calling myself “undecided” because I had decided that I wasn’t ready to choose a major yet. I wanted time to explore; I wanted guidance along the way—and that’s exactly what Ithaca gave me.
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