The unexpected impact of a practicum placement
As the pandemic and lockdowns continued throughout 2020 and into 2021, Angela Gnjatic found herself feeling increasingly anxious about being in social situations. The one-year MSc Kinesiology (coursework) program she started in the fall of 2020 had been adjusted to online delivery but as the four-month, in-person practicum placement started getting near, Angela wondered how she would manage it after an extended period of social isolation. On top of that, she had arranged for her practicum to be working with a vulnerable population in a long-term care home and she was worried.
What she discovered is that the practicum experience not only helped turn around her anxiety but also created a positive impact on the people she interacted with at Schlegel Villages in Waterloo, Ontario.
Working with a vulnerable community during the global pandemic
Thankfully, the 12 weeks that Angela was scheduled to do her practicum coincided with an ease in some pandemic restrictions, and she was able to carry out her practicum as planned.
Working with older adults with various physical and cognitive abilities, Angela created exercise plans for small groups to not only maintain physical and mental health but also with a specific emphasis on fall prevention, one of the most common and damaging types of incidents for the older adult population. She realized quickly that flexibility was key to success. Like Angela, the participants were also struggling with anxiety resulting from the pandemic and she noticed that many residents' abilities and enthusiasm varied from day-to-day. She adjusted the classes as much as she could on the fly, reading the atmosphere in the room. She would tap into the enthusiasm of a lively group with more vigour one day, or gently encourage participation with a less receptive group with calm enthusiasm another. "Creating flexibility in classes was probably the biggest challenge for me because my academic studies always referred to exercises always being structured with purpose and goals but in reality, I had to think on my feet often to get participants involved." Throughout the practicum experience she noticed that she developed a connection with her participants and Angela gradually realized the unexpected impact this was having on her. "I didn’t realize how much I needed this experience. By getting to know the residents, I had a much better understanding of their needs and was able to build better classes for them. Seeing them respond so well really lifted me too."
For Angela, the practicum really did give her practical experience. She was able to adjust her academic learning to a real-world situation - pulling parts of the knowledge she learned from her advanced degree in Kinesiology and matching it with emerging communication and relationship building skills that she can transfer to her future employment as she hopes to work towards becoming a chiropractor.
"I didn’t realize how much I needed this experience. By getting to know the residents, I had a much better understanding of their needs and was able to build better classes for them. Seeing them respond so well really lifted me too."
Finding opportunity in the MSc Kinesiology (coursework) program
As an undergraduate at the Kinesiology program at the University of Waterloo, Angela was inspired to continue to complete her master's, "I knew that I would have the opportunity to work with incredible professors as well as I knew that this program would take me outside of my comfort zones and challenge me in ways that my undergraduate degree did not." She credits the prestige and reputation of the program as one that will help her reach her ultimate goal of becoming a chiropractor. "You really get to learn from the best and you are exposed to so many different aspects of kinesiology. In any work related field the competition is high, learning from the best and coming from a reputable school and program was important for me."
For the duration of Angela's master's experience, all of her courses had to be taught online. This came with the inevitable challenges that many experienced during the Covid pandemic. Connections with colleagues and professors were harder to maintain and in Angela's case this reduction in physical connections heightened her anxiety over the program ahead of her practicum. Despite this though, Angela still thinks back on her graduate experience positively, "This program allowed me to make great connections with those around me. As I got to know my fellow students I realized that these people are hoping for similar career outcomes as me - we were able to help each other out and forge lasting friendships. I probably would have never met them if it was not for this program."