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As hockey players from the U.S., Japan, Canada, Great Britain, and Korea faced off at Maxcy Hall during the 2023 FISU World University Games, Melanie Heidman ’25 monitored the action from a press box high above the ice, carefully tracking shots on goal and other important stats for the international event.

Heidman, an exercise science major from Rochester, spent six days working at Maxcy Hall as an integral part of the statistics team covering 17 hockey games at the College. An event services volunteer for the games, one day she would be in the press box with a bird’s eye view of the ice as she tracked faceoffs and shots on goal, the next day she would be in the stands recording athletes’ time on the ice. “A quote that I was taught growing up was ‘When opportunity knocks, you open the door,’ and with this volunteering experience, I was definitively picking up the phone,” Heidman said.

As Maxcy Hall was transformed into a cultural sports center over the winter break, Heidman was able to meet people from around the world. “Some of the players were interested in what life was like around here. The people teaching us how to record the stats were from Italy and they thought Potsdam was very impressive, and they told me that I was lucky to go here,” she recalled.

At the encouragement of Tanya Hewitt, chair of the Department of Public Health and Human Performance, she turned the experience into a hands-on internship to examine how people from around the world unite and transcend language barriers through sports. Heidman will be making a presentation on the topic in one of Hewitt’s classes later this semester. “I’ll talk about my experience a little bit, but the focus will be how different areas of the world can connect through sports. I noticed that the referees were from all over, but since the hand signals for hockey are the same, all teams were able to understand them,” she said.

Volunteering at the games has been the perfect extension of her exercise science degree. She recently completed a Personal Training Fundamentals class with Dr. Samuel Santich where she worked with a senior in the program to implement a personalized workout routine for a faculty member on campus.  “We would go upstairs to the gym or the weight room and apply what we learned. Once you get into the upper-level courses it’s all hands-on, it’s an actual exercise science lab instead of a lecture,” she said.  When she first enrolled at SUNY Potsdam, Heidman had planned on pursuing a career in physical therapy, but after taking a variety of classes over her first two years, she has a new plan for her career. One class in particular, Health and Sports Medicine, had a significant impact on her. “I’ve taken a few classes with Tanya [Hewitt]. I love her. Her classes are really awesome, with a lot of applied learning,” she said.

“It’s always good to know that exercise science can take you in a lot of different routes, and all of the major classes give you an inside look at options you’ll have post-graduation.”

Melanie Heidman ’25

When Heidman was first looking at colleges, she knew that she wanted to attend a SUNY school and stay in New York state. She considered larger universities at first, but chose Potsdam for a more personalized experience where professors get to know their students. “When I’m in the classroom, I need a professor who will know my name, know who I am, and why I’m here,” she said.

Her relationship with Hewitt exemplifies that. Not only did Hewitt approach her about completing an internship for the World University games, but she also gave her the academic support she needed after sustaining a concussion. A member of the Potsdam Bears’ rugby team, Heidman missed a week of classes after a collision on the field. When she talked to Hewitt, any concerns about deadlines for coursework were put to rest. “I was like, ‘Ok, when do I need to turn my classwork in? She pretty much told me, ‘Stay on track with where we are, and it’s fine as long as you get your work in by the end of the semester. She’s really understanding,” Heidman said.

Tanya Hewitt leads one of her exercise science labs.

Outside of the classroom, Heidman is a work study student in the WISER Greenhouse where she has been watering plants, growing pomegranate trees, and is working on a germination project to grow red oak acorns planted by FISU World University Games athletes. 463 acorns that were planted by athletes before the opening ceremony in Lake Placid, are now in the safe hands of Heidman and Ray Bowdish, the WISER Center coordinator, as they will take root in seed trays over the coming months. In April they will be donated to the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe in Akwesasne. “We’re germinating them, so we’re not going to wait until they grow, just until they have a little sprout, enough for them to be planted in the ground,” she said.

Heidman carries trays of red oak acorn into the WISER Greenhouse.

Now a sophomore, Heidman has plenty of time to finalize her plans, but for now she has her sights set on becoming an athletic trainer at a high school, college, or professional sports team, but she knows there are many other options available. “I learned that you can be an athletic trainer and follow a Broadway musical. They’re doing physical dancing all day, every day, and they need athletic trainers. You can follow the military, even a circus. We also learned that people that work on fishing boats sometimes have an athletic trainer or a physical therapist,” she said. “As much as I would still like to work with athletes, it’s cool to see that it can take you so much further than a school or professional team.”

Article and photos by Jason Hunter