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For Emily Vierno ’22 and Kristen Parker ’22, finding a great education was closer to home than either of them realized.

Not far from their childhood homes, their friends, and their families, both discovered SUNY Potsdam’s exercise science program—a dynamic academic path that has prepared Vierno for a career as a physical therapist and Parker for a career as a sports dietician. As they wrap up their last semester at the College, both students have already been accepted into the graduate programs of their choice after completing all of the prerequisites within SUNY Potsdam’s Department of Public Health and Human Performance.

Emily Vierno ’22, left, leads a personal training session with Jessica Semenyo '22 in  SUNY Potsdam's fitness center.

From Personal Training Fundamentals and Exercise Assessment & Prescription, Vierno has been laying the foundation for success, and taking the necessary classes to enter Clarkson University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program this fall. “Exercise science is a really great program that is growing here at SUNY Potsdam,” said Vierno. “There are so many interesting classes to take, and all of the professors are so knowledgeable.”

Led by Tanya Hewitt, chair of the Department of Public Health and Human Performance, the exercise science program has emerged as a top choice for students interested in a broad range of careers focused on physical performance, injury prevention, and nutrition. With two tracks—Exercise and Sports Performance track and Pre-professional—students can map out a course that aligns with their academic goals. “Tanya Hewitt has had a big impact on me. She informed me about the articulation agreement (with Clarkson University), helped me through the steps of applying to grad school, as well as finding an internship. She truly cares about all her students. She really is a great professor and a great person,” Vierno said.

Tanya Hewitt

Whether exploring human movement in the exercise science lab, or learning techniques to be an effective personal trainer, hands-on learning is an integral part of the exercise science program. “Working in the fitness center or the exercise science lab in Merritt Hall has been very beneficial and has helped me effectively work with others. Hands-on classes have definitely impacted me the most,” said Vierno.

Emily Vierno ’22

The program has had a similar impact on Parker. Combining coursework, hands-on labs, and an internship at a wellness center in North Carolina, she has continued to develop the skills needed for graduate school. “The exercise science program has grown and expanded rapidly in recent times, especially because more people are realizing the importance of a healthy lifestyle. I have learned so much. I can't thank Tanya Hewitt enough for all the dedication she has to her students and the program,” she said.

“SUNY Potsdam is a closeknit campus, where the professors truly care about their students. Potsdam will always have a place in my heart.”

-Kristen Parker ’22

Kristen Parker ’22

This May, right after graduating from SUNY Potsdam, Parker will start a graduate program in Nutrition and Dietetics at Russell Sage College. The three-year program will prepare her to become a Registered Dietician. “I'm looking forward to furthering my education after the program, to be able to work with athletes as a sports dietician,” she said.

As both students prepare to graduate, they reflect on their paths that led them to SUNY Potsdam. For Parker, a trip to Europe after high school made her realize that she wanted to stay close to home. “I could remain in my community surrounded by friends and family while in a pivotal time in my life,” she said. “When I first began at SUNY Potsdam I had very little idea of what major I was interested in, or what my career goals were. I realized that I was very passionate about my own health, specifically my diet and exercise. Whether it's Zumba, spin, weightlifting or running, I'm always down for a workout. That's when I found the exercise science program.”

Vierno has always known that she wanted to work in the medical field in some capacity. She danced competitively and played sports in her youth, and was always intrigued by human anatomy and physiology. She took classes at BOCES throughout high school, giving her a glimpse into different health care careers. “I thought about physical therapy, and I started job shadowing. I had the opportunity to shadow chiropractic and occupational therapists, but physical therapy was always my favorite,” she said.

SUNY Potsdam’s exercise science program has been the vehicle to move Vierno towards a physical therapy career. Initially, she hadn’t planned on attending SUNY Potsdam, feeling like it was too close to her home in Massena, but after spending a semester at another university downstate, she reconsidered her decision.

“I never knew that SUNY Potsdam had an exercise science program. I attended an open house one weekend I was home, and Dr. Crow was one of the faculty members in the field house talking about the program. After talking with him for maybe 20 minutes, I knew I wanted to transfer,” Vierno said. “I got really great grades throughout my years at SUNY Potsdam, a 4.0 every semester, and having great professors is a big part of that. SUNY Potsdam is a very welcoming community, and I am glad that I transferred here and got to experience it.”

Article and photos by Jason Hunter