Sowing the Seeds of Connectivity

By Leah Aulisio-Sharpe ’22, December 18, 2020
Athletic training department creates a student-alumni virtual preceptor program.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced students and professors across the college to adapt to the challenges of remote learning. Because the fall 2020 athletic season was canceled, athletic training students, particularly juniors and seniors, were dealing with changes to their routine. At the same time, many alumni who are working as professional athletic trainers were also dealing with similar challenges. 

That’s why professor Paul Geisler, director of the athletic training education program, and associate professor Pat McKeon created the Virtual Preceptor program. In the program, junior and senior students are paired up with volunteer alumni who, in addition to discussing the latest research and helping students tackle difficult subjects like anatomy and physiology, work to mentor and support them.  

“This provides direct engagement with our alumni and an opportunity to network. There are a lot of seeds being planted.” 

Paul Geisler, director of IC's athletic training education program

“This program aids to augment what we are doing with our clinical education adjustments due to the pandemic,” said Geisler. “We’ve always had good engagement with our alumni, but it’s been kind of indirect. This provides direct engagement with our alumni and an opportunity to network. There are a lot of seeds being planted.” 

The program is designed to be as easy and functional as possible. Each student-alum pair meets with their virtual preceptors for at least one hour a week. The alumni are given guides on the goals and curriculum of the department, and the pair have access to electronic libraries with resources and research.  

When it came to matching the students with alumni, Geisler considered each student’s identity, personality and career goals. This helps ensure that the relationship between the pair isn’t merely academic. 

“Considering these factors impacts the ability to establish relationships and honesty,” he said. It’s a chance to create a bond and connection beyond the clinic, beyond the nuts and bolts, and maybe there is some growth that occurs as a result.” 

For Giana Earrusso ’22, her connection to Chanel Cohen ’16 has made an impact on her beyond academics. As Black women working in a predominately white, male field, Earrusso and Cohen were able to acknowledge the unique aspects of their educational and professional experiences, which Earrusso said provided a source of strength, validation and understanding. 

“I felt like ‘Wow she did it, and where she is right now is where I want to be.’” 

Gianna Earrusso ’22, athletic training major

“The program helped me set in stone that this is really something that I want to do,” she said. “I never had the opportunity to talk to a Black woman who has gone through the same hardships and confusions that I experience. I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. I felt like ‘Wow she did it, and where she is right now is where I want to be.’” 

Although the program was only slated to run through Thanksgiving, some pairs have continued to meet, some for multiple hours a week. 

Geisler is moved by the impact this program has had on both current students and alumni. He intends to continue the program going forward. 

“The comments from alumni about how they’ve learned from students, on the importance of giving back, and how excited they are to see that the bar for our students is still so high have been amazing,” he said.