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Sweet Celebration for Alumni and Current Students as Mercer’s PTA Program Celebrates Its 20th Year


Pictured from left are Jon Viloria '07, Dave Miller '17, Jenn Viloria '06, Arkadiy Kitaychik '17, Iryna Filinovich '17, Jessica Sliker '02, and Kristen Collins '00, with Program Coordinator Barbara Behrens, Associate Professor Holly Kaiser, and Dean of Health Professions Rob Schreyer.

From left, Ramila Dadhania, director of rehabilitation at CareOne at East Burnswick and her colleague, Radhika Gandhi, with MCCC faculty member Holly Kaiser. CareOne is one of the clinical sites that offers clinical rotations to PTA students.

From left, Dean Rob Schreyer, faculty member Holly Kaiser, MCCC President Jianping Wang, Vice President Mark Harris, PTA Program Coordinator Barbara Behrens, Dan Klim, executive director of the American Physical Therapy Association of New Jersey (APTAnj), Paul Vidal, APTAnj president, and MCCC Vice President Ed Gwazda.

Professor Behrens contributed three handmade dolls to the silent auction.

Desserts prepared by Conference Center staff were abundant and delicious.

West Windsor, N.J. – How sweet it was! On April 28, the Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program at Mercer County Community College (MCCC), coordinated by Professor Barbara Behrens, hosted “The Chocolate Affair II” to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The event lived up to the promise, featuring pastries, chocolate mousse, chocolate candy, and other delectable desserts as PTA alumni, current students, family members, faculty members and administrators gathered in the MCCC Conference Center atrium to network, share professional news and reminisce. The festive event also included a silent auction and raffle prizes.

According to Behrens, Mercer’s PTA program was established to address a pressing need for PTAs in the central New Jersey region. And, it has clearly done so. For virtually every year since the program started, one hundred percent of all graduates who have passed the national licensing exam have started work as PTAs within six months after graduation.

“The first class was admitted in March of 1997 before the lab was even completed and classes were held around a conference table,” Behrens recalls. The program grew quickly and has been at maximum capacity for more than a decade, capped by the number of available clinical sites, a required part of the curriculum.

Behrens thanked the guests who came out to celebrate. “We have a strong past and even stronger future, with scholarship funds growing due to the generosity of supporters like those of you here this evening,” she said.  Major supporters of the event were the New Jersey chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association, Ivy Rehab Physical Therapy, and PTA alumna Kristen Collins (’00).

Collins, who was a member of the college’s third PTA class, enrolled at Mercer having already earned a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from Rutgers University and working for a brief time in a university fitness program. After earning her A.A.S. degree at Mercer, Collins said she had an easy time finding a job. She worked in an outpatient rehab center for 11 years and has spent the past six in a subacute care facility.

“Residents at my facility are between the hospital and their home setting. Our goal is to help them become as independent as possible so they can go home,” Collins said. “It’s very gratifying to see someone who has had a stroke go from not being able to get out of bed to walking independently and driving three months later.”

After her busy work day, Collins heads for the MCCC campus, where she teaches courses in Kinesiology and Pathology as a member of the PTA program’s adjunct faculty. “I enjoy teaching because I enjoy my work. It’s great to be able to spark that feeling in my students,” she says.

Another guest was 2002 alumna Jessica Sliker, who is director of outpatient orthopedics at Ivy Rehab Physical Therapy in East Windsor, one of several company locations.

She explained that her road to the profession began when she got injured and needed physical therapy. Already enrolled Mercer at the time but unsure of her direction, she signed up for what was still a fledgling program. “It came easy to me because it’s what I wanted to do. I love what I do. It’s very fulfilling.”

Sliker continued her education after MCCC, earning her bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Management. She is currently working on her master’s degree in Healthcare Administration.

She, like Collins, is an adjunct instructor at Mercer, sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm for the profession by teaching Therapeutic Exercise and Orthopedics.

“I enjoy bettering the profession and contributing to the knowledge and experience of our students. We want to help them provide the best possible care,” Sliker says. Collins and Sliker also administer weekly competency testing on an individualized basis, another program requirement.

Both alumni note that jobs are plentiful for PTAs and that their skills are useful in a variety of settings – hospitals, outpatient clinics, rehab and subacute care centers, and in schools and in-home settings.

Behrens is clearly proud to oversee a program that has succeeded by every measure. After its initial accreditation, the program was reaccredited for the maximum 10-year accreditation period in 2004 and received its second 10-year reaccreditation in 2014. Behrens shares full-time teaching duties with Associate Professor Holly Kaiser, who also serves as the program’s academic coordinator of clinical education.

In 2016, embracing a college-wide initiative to expand the number of online courses, the PTA program began offering online options for two courses: Introduction to PTA and Pathology for PTAs. A third course, PTA Seminar III, is presented as a blended course, with students meeting once weekly on campus and completing the rest of their coursework online.

PTA Curriculum

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