Back in 2001, Stacey Zeigler worked as a physical therapist at Carthage Area Hospital in Carthage, N.Y. In this capacity, she frequently worked alongside PT graduate students studying at the hospital through clinical collaborations with various colleges in Northern New York. But there was one group of students who consistently stood out from the others.
"I was always impressed by the Clarkson students that came to the hospital," Zeigler says. "They generally had the best critical thinking skills and a knack for problem solving; these students had an ability to think on their feet, look up things they didn’t know—they were just one step above the others."
The positive interaction with Clarkson students in her working environment sparked an interest in the University, so when an adjunct instructor position opened in the school’s Physical Therapy department early in 2003 she was quick to accept the opportunity. That fall, a full-time faculty position became available in practice management and geriatrics—Zeigler's area of expertise—and she is now in her seventh year at Clarkson.
Once on campus, Zeigler began to understand just why the physical therapy graduate students that she had worked with at Carthage were more advanced than their peers from other schools. The Doctor of Physical Therapy curriculum at Clarkson utilizes a Problem-Based Learning approach to education, which is student-centered, collaborative and self-directed. The learning process is based on patient case studies and is unique because it resembles actual clinical experience. According to Zeigler, this approach to learning is what differentiates Clarkson's DPT from other programs.
"I am big on empowering others to pursue their own passions, which is why I think the problem-based learning model is so effective," she says. "We let them take the ball and run with it and give them the tools that they need to do that. They learn the way they want to learn, and they take a leadership role in their learning process."
In her role as Clinical Assistant Professor, Zeigler has a unique opportunity to help students maximize the value of this problem-based approach. She is the semester coordinator for two courses, Professionalism, taken by all first semester PT grad students, and Research in an Autonomous Environment, which students take in their last semester.
"It's amazing to see the difference between students in their first semester, when I am explaining to them that they are in charge of their learning, that they have the power to make changes and make the most of their investment, to semester seven when they are professionals ready to step out the door," Zeigler says.
She also works with the students throughout the course of their graduate studies to ensure that professional ethics are being infused throughout the curriculum.
In addition to being the first person students meet when they enter the program and the last person they see when they leave, she also coordinates the cardio pulmonary and exercise science labs, not to mention her "unofficial" role as program psychologist.
"Students generally say I need to have a psychology office because most of the time come to me for a listening ear," Zeigler laughs. "If they have questions, problems, or issues that they don’t feel comfortable taking anywhere else, they tend to wind up in my office."
As if her work on campus doesn’t keep her busy enough, she owns a private practice called Fun in Aging Physical Therapy and also contracts through hospice of St. Lawrence Valley, both of which allow her to continue her practice and work with real patients—all while she helps educate and train future leaders in the field that she is most passionate about.