Barry McNamara  |  Published March 23, 2023

Academic Trailblazers

First group of health sciences and human movement majors all headed to graduate school.

TRAILBLAZERS: From left, Madison Meldrum, Jeff Garrett and Alyssa Villarreal will be the first Mo... TRAILBLAZERS: From left, Madison Meldrum, Jeff Garrett and Alyssa Villarreal will be the first Monmouth students to complete a degree in health sciences and human movement. MONMOUTH, Ill. – Three Monmouth College trailblazers will soon be studying in graduate school after becoming the first students to complete their degree in the College’s new health sciences and human movement major.

Seniors Jeff Garrett, Madison Meldrum and Alyssa Villarreal opted for the new major midway through their college careers. They all plan to pursue a doctorate in physical therapy at universities near their homes.

Garrett and Meldrum, who are from the Quad City-area communities of Aledo and Colona, respectively, will continue their studies at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. Villarreal, a Galesburg High School and Carl Sandburg College graduate whose family now lives in Summerfield, Florida, will study physical therapy at the University of Florida.


An interdisciplinary major

“When I transferred from Sandburg, I was originally an exercise science major, but I heard about the new major from (kinesiology lecturer) Jen Braun,” said Villarreal. “She said it was a good alternative, since I was planning to go to PT school after graduating.”

Garrett and Meldrum were also exercise science students who were steered toward the new major by Braun, who helped create it, along with chemistry professor Laura Moore and kinesiology professor Sean Schumm.

The major’s interdisciplinary approach was a big draw to the students.

“The beauty of the health sciences and human movement major is that the students have been greatly influenced by faculty from biology, chemistry, kinesiology, psychology and physics, since it is a combination of courses that end up satisfying the prerequisites for professional school.” Jen Braun


“The beauty of the health sciences and human movement major is that the students have been greatly influenced by faculty from biology, chemistry, kinesiology, psychology and physics, since it is a combination of courses that end up satisfying the prerequisites for professional school,” said Braun. “Laura and I are co-coordinators of the major and advise the students, but they have many of our science faculty.”

“I like that it’s so interdisciplinary and covers so many different areas,” said Meldrum. “We also get exposed to things on a more biological and cellular level.”


A clearer path to PT school

For Garrett, the alignment with PT school prerequisites brought a peace of mind that convinced him to switch to the new major.

“Jen was telling me step-by-step from the beginning what the program consisted of and some of the benefits,” he said. “For me, the biggest benefit is having everything organized. Before, pre-physical therapy students had to do a lot of research into what courses PT schools were requiring, especially the science courses. But after I talked to Jen, it’s great to know that those prerequisites were already all laid out that first year.”

“Before, pre-physical therapy students had to do a lot of research into what courses PT schools were requiring, especially the science courses. But after I talked to Jen, it’s great to know that those prerequisites were already all laid out that first year.” Jeff Garrett


He said that another benefit of the new major is that it goes beyond physical therapy by also preparing students for potential opportunities in areas such as athletic training and exercise physiology.

“It definitely opens the door to a lot more opportunities,” he said. “With the organization element, I think it should lessen some of the stress with choosing courses and allow students to focus more on the academic side, not having to worry about every little thing they need to do to get into PT school.”

He and Meldrum are not only Monmouth trailblazers, but they were the poster students for health sciences and human movement when it was unveiled two years ago.

“We talked with the faculty who were creating the major and gave them our input,” said Meldrum. “Jeff and I were also part of an informational video that the school put out about the new major.”


What’s ahead for the trio

In addition to creating a clearer path toward her career goal, Meldrum said another way Monmouth prepared her for being a physical therapist is by further developing her interpersonal skills that were fostered by relationships built at the College.

“In physical therapy, you commonly have a 40-minute session with a single patient,” she said. “You’re one-on-one with that patient. So all the deep relationships I’ve formed at Monmouth will play a key role in how I’m able to interact with patients.”

“In physical therapy, you commonly have a 40-minute session with a single patient. You’re one-on-one with that patient. So all the deep relationships I’ve formed at Monmouth will play a key role in how I’m able to interact with patients.” Madison Meldrum


Meldrum was drawn to St. Ambrose by the fact that it was close to home, but she also appreciates that it will take less time to complete her doctorate.

“St. Ambrose has an expedited program, so I’ll complete it in two-and-half years, although I have the option to do a one-year clinical after that,” she said.

She’ll likely have several classes with Garrett, who is keeping his area of specialization open, but said he’s drawn toward “orthopedics/sports or pediatrics.”

Villarreal will make that specialization decision prior to her third year in Gainesville. After completing her doctorate, she will “either do a residency or go straight into working as a physical therapist.” Currently, her favorite class is “Exercise Testing and Prescription” because of its “real-life clinical applications.”

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