Skip to Main Content

PT Students Discover the Power of Service Learning

Projects Benefit University, Community

UMass Lowell Image
Sarah Strickland, Stephen Kellett and Sarah Coulombe worked with Lowell General Hospital to assess community health needs.

By Karen Angelo

Working on a community project is a requirement in the physical therapy program, but students say it’s also one of the most rewarding experiences of their education. 

Sarah Coulombe '13 worked with two other students to help Lowell General Hospital and the Lowell Health Alliance assess the health needs of the community, a requirement of the Affordable Healthcare Act for non-profit hospitals. 

Coulombe, along with students Stephen Kellett and Sarah Strickland, conducted focus groups with health professionals and others in the greater Lowell area to find unmet health needs and plan activities to improve the health of local residents. 

“It’s great to see a coordinated effort between the hospital, the University and local organizations to identify opportunities for healthcare improvement,” says Coulombe. “By participating in the project and talking with community leaders, I have gained knowledge and confidence. I’ve also developed a deeper understanding of the healthcare needs in the greater Lowell area, and this insight will carry forward to my career as a physical therapist.” 

Service-learning projects benefit the community and help students think independently in a real-world setting. 

“Integrating community service into the curriculum gives students an opportunity to partner and engage with diverse community organizations on real projects that make a difference,” says Chair of the Physical Therapy Department Deirdra Murphy. “The community gets the help they need and our students get an opportunity to sharpen their leadership, communication and partnership skills – very important competencies in the physical therapy world.” 

Amanda Shultz and Bao Wei worked with the South Bay Early Childhood program in Lowell to share information on how to encourage motor development and physical activity in infants. The students produced a physical activity curriculum for toddler activity and presented it to South Bay employees who work in early intervention with children up to 3 years old. “It was amazing how much information we produced in a short period of time,” says Wei. 

“The information in this binder will definitely be helpful in the future when I look for a position at an early intervention facility.” 

Students were able to choose a service-learning project in a subject that they were interested in. Since Nadia Prinzivalli and Tom Byrne had sports-related injuries in high school, they decided to work with the men’s volleyball team at Chelmsford High School to keep them on the court and off the sidelines. They teamed up with 24 athletes and trained them in proper warm up techniques, and presented a strength and conditioning program. 

“As future physical therapists, we play a big role in injury prevention as well as rehabilitation,” says Prinzivalli.