Belonging Runs Deep Among Physical Therapy Students, Faculty, and Staff

Jacob Notinger's marathon experience highlights community, not competition, in the DPT program

Smiling group of marathon runners

Doctor of Physical Therapy student Jacob Notinger (far right) with fellow Boston Marathoners raising funds for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. (Contributed photo)

From supporting fellow students during the COVID-19 pandemic to running the Boston Marathon in honor of his mother and one of his professors, Jacob Notinger’s experience in the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program exemplifies the community and connections the program promotes.

Smiling male student after running a marathon
Jacob Notinger after completing the Boston Marathon (Contributed photo)

Notinger ‘20, ‘23 (CAHNR) navigated an unconventional start to his graduate studies finding a supportive community along the way. When Notinger started the DPT program in Fall 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had forced courses that were normally very hands-on to a virtual setting.

Despite the challenges this presented for the new students, the experience bonded the 2020 cohort, Notinger says.

“The fact that it was COVID was a whirlwind for my whole class,” Notinger says. “It ended up bringing us together more than anything.”

This past April, Notinger ran the Boston Marathon and was sponsored by the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, raising $10,000 for the organization.

He ran in honor of his mother, who is fighting cancer, as well as a member of his UConn “family,” professor Deborah Bubela, who is a cancer survivor. Notinger had his fellow DPT students sign a shirt for Bubela, which he took across the finish line.

“It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me,” Bubela says. “And he did that. He has the bigger picture of goodness. He’s truly an altruistic and giving young man, like so many of the students in this program.”

Small Group, Big Bond

Each cohort in the DPT program includes about 30 students. This small size helps foster meaningful connections between faculty and students, says Laurie Devaney, associate professor and DPT director.

“Our program is not about competition, it’s about supporting everyone to succeed,” Devaney says. “When [our students] go out in the world it’s important to not look at the person next to you as competition, but as someone on the same team.”

As an undergraduate, Notinger worked closely with Devaney on research related to work by kinesiology department head, Lindsay DiStefano. The study compared students’ abilities to perform basic sports tasks, like throwing or catching a ball, with their perception of how well they could complete that task.

Notinger’s positive undergraduate experience working with Devaney and other faculty and staff encouraged him to stay at UConn for his graduate studies.

He and the other member of the close-knit student cohort were able to resume in-person studies for their second year in the program. Entering their third year, the DPT students will take on a series of internships around the country.

“We feel like we’re ready, even though it’s been a roundabout road,” Notinger says.

Notinger is starting with a clinical rotation at an outpatient facility in Massachusetts. In January, he will complete a specialized internship at the Seattle Children’s Hospital, a highly sought position at the nationally renowned hospital, working with adolescent athletes recovering from injuries.

Notinger always knew he wanted to study medicine, but wasn’t sure what field. By his sophomore year, he had decided to pursue a career in physical therapy, recalling his own experiences in physical therapy from his time as a student athlete.

“I always liked the hands-on part of it, and how you can help people and you can see improvements,” Notinger says.

Making a Difference, One Mile at a Time

Bubela says Notinger exemplifies the kind of student the UConn DPT program celebrates: one who is motivated by a desire to help others.

“All our students do this [work] to help others and to make a difference in the world,” Bubela says. “Jacob has certainly shown that in many ways.”

While Notinger says his marathon time was hardly record-shattering, he was proud to have finished, with cheers from his family and DPT supporters all along the way.

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