Alumna says it’s OK to break from traditional career paths

Marjorie S. Miller
November 03, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Sara Shaffer, a 2011 kinesiology graduate from the College of Health and Human Development, didn’t follow a traditional career path after graduating. A successful manager and director in the health care system, Shaffer recently shared with kinesiology students at Penn State that it’s okay to follow a different path than peers, and to look outside the classroom to discover passions.

This was Shaffer’s message during Melissa Bopp’s public health class, KINES 426, as part of the Department of Kinesiology’s Alumni in the Classroom program.

Shaffer shared with students that it was her out-of-the-classroom experiences during college, including volunteer work and internships, that helped her realize what she wanted to do.

“The Alumni in the Classroom series was not around when I was a student, and now being on the other side, I think it is certainly one of the most beneficial events a current student could attend,” she said. “The program allows alumni to tell their story, not only about their post-graduate life, but their time at Penn State and how their experiences, whether in the classroom or extra-curricular, helped them to get where they are.

"I think the series is incredibly beneficial to everyone, but especially to those who are unsure of what kind of career they want.”

While in college, Shaffer interned at the State College YMCA and The Village at Penn State, and volunteered with a variety of physical therapy programs and on- and off-campus organizations, including Kinesiology Club and the American College of Sports Medicine. Shaffer originally thought she would pursue physical therapy as a career, but through her volunteer work and internships, she decided that path wasn’t for her.

Today Shaffer manages the day-to-day outpatient practice operations of the internal medicine residency program at the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

Shaffer’s job also includes creating, implementing and maintaining resident and preceptor scheduling for more than 135 people, assisting with educational leadership of the resident clinic, managing resident and faculty evaluations, and creating the logistics of rotations and conferences, plus a variety of other duties.

“Being able to share my experiences while at Penn State and what my life has been like post-graduation was incredibly humbling,” Shaffer said. “The most enjoyable part for me was being able to tell my story, which is that I did not follow the traditional path of physical therapy, which most students in my major do, and it led me to a career I love that I wouldn't have known about otherwise. I hope that in some way I was able to convey to them that it is okay to be different and to not follow the norm.

Allison Hedin, a kinesiology senior in the Movement Science Option, found Shaffer’s presentation to be meaningful because it brought to light the importance of shadowing or talking to someone in a certain field or career before settling for that path.

“Sara wanted to attend physical therapy school, but when she actually had an experience with physical therapy sessions, she was drawn away from it because she realized it was not for her,” Hedin said.

Hedin said the Alumni in the Classroom program is important because alumni can provide insight into what students are able to do to prepare for life after graduation.

“Alumni can give advice to students regarding what they did to prepare for the professional world and what Penn State was able to offer them,” Hedin said. “Additionally, students are able to explore different career options early, so they are sure that once they graduate they are taking the right career path. I realized that there is so much more for a student with a kinesiology degree to get into than just physical therapy.”

Also as part of the Alumni in the Classroom program, Jeff Welsh, program director at Parisi Speed School in Harrisburg, spoke to Chris Bopp’s Exercise Prescription and Case Studies class, KINES 457, about his career as a sports trainer, and the many steps he took to get there.

Jeff Welsh Alumni in the Classroom

Jeff Welsh, program director at Parisi Speed School in Harrisburg, spoke to Chris Bopp’s Exercise Prescription and Case Studies class, KINES 457, about his career as a sports trainer, and the many steps he took to get there. Welsh's presentation was part of the Alumni in the Classroom program. 

IMAGE: Kevin Sliman

As program director of Parisi Speed School, Welsh works with about 200 athletes of all ages throughout the year to implement different training programs into their regimens. This includes developing training plans for high school, collegiate and professional athletes based on their personal and sports schedules and their training goals, strengths and interests.

Welsh, a 2011 kinesiology graduate, is also general manager of Gold’s Gym in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, and co-owner of CrossFit LionHeart in State College.

He advised students to continue their education, even after graduating.

“Your education doesn’t stop after school,” he said. “Get additional training based on who you want to work with, such as athletes, and attend conferences, and find a good mentor.”

This message resonated with kinesiology senior Kasey Kemp.

“Jeff explained that even after you receive your degree, it is important to be a life-long learner and to always be eager to learn new information in whatever field interests you,” Kemp said. “It was easy to see that Jeff was very driven after college. He knew he was passionate about fitness, so he worked hard and did not stop until he got where he wanted to be.”

Kemp added that alumni speakers such as Welsh give students motivation to pursue the careers they are passionate about.

“I feel that it is extremely beneficial for alumni to return to speak to current students,” Kemp said. “Many students in kinesiology have no idea how broad the field is and are unsure of what they want to do with their degree. When alumni speak in the classrooms it gives students confidence.”

Also during his presentation, Welsh highlighted the importance of networking, both during college and after.

“Penn State does a good job of creating a broad network base, catered for a variety of interests, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, performance training and commercial business,” Welsh said. “Take advantage of those networks.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 20, 2016