"A Chocolate Affair" Celebrates Physical Therapist Assistant Program's 10th Anniversary


In an event drenched in chocolate, Mercer's Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program celebrated its 10th anniversary on April 12. Close to 100 guests attended "A Chocolate Affair" at the MCCC Conference Center, which brought together Mercer's PTA alumni and current students, physical therapy professionals and other community supporters. It also showcased the talents of MCCC's culinary students, who baked twenty chocolate mousse tortes topped with chocolate glaze - ten of which were specially decorated in honor of the event's generous donors. Guests feasted on the tortes and also enjoyed a chocolate fountain featuring dipping items such as pretzel sticks and fresh fruit.

Dr. Thomas Wilfrid, MCCC vice president for Academic and Student Affairs, welcomed the assembled crowd and reflected on the program's stellar success. "One of only three community college programs in the state, Mercer's Physical Therapist Assistant program has truly answered the need to train and place qualified professionals in facilities throughout the region," he said. The program started with eight students in 1996; 19 students will graduate in May.

PTA Program Coordinator Barbara Behrens, who organized the event, added her comments. "The future is never certain. When the goals for this program were established, we didn't know whether we would be able to meet them. Now ten years later, we have provided our students with a well-rounded, community-based PTA education. Our students have achieved a 91.67% pass rate on the national licensure exam. One hundred percent of our licensed grads have been employed within six months. I am proud of our students, who have developed into excellent clinicians." Behrens noted that a real team effort has gone into the program's success, including some 50 community facilities that serve as clinical training sites, and the many clinicians who mentor Mercer students.

Richard Stoneking, president of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association, which donated a $500 PTA scholarship to commemorate the anniversary, also shared his congratulatory remarks. Stoneking, a physical therapist with offices in Ewing and Lambertville, has provided a clinical setting for many Mercer PTA students since the program's inception. "I am pleased to play a part in the development of these students' professional skills," Stoneking said. "They are highly motivated and eager to learn. They are there for all the right reasons. When they complete their clinical training, their skills and level of professionalism are right where they should be."

Jessica Sliker, a 2002 PTA grad who helped out with the event, said that for her the evening was truly a celebration of an excellent career choice. ""The Mercer program worked out great for me," she said. "I was extremely well prepared for the national boards and for the work setting." She returns to campus on a regular basis as an instructor, assisting students as they prepare for their competency exams.

Sliker has worked for over four years at Water's Edge, a rehab facility in Trenton, and starts a new job in an outpatient facility this month. "I love my career," she said. "Being able to see progress in my patients on a daily basis and making a difference in someone's life is extremely rewarding."

With patients ranging from age 21 to 105, Sliker has dealt with a broad range of needs, but finds herself especially drawn to neurology cases, including spinal cord injuries and brain trauma. "It's a challenging, but rewarding area," she said. She has also dealt with end stage Alzheimer's disease. "These patients are in a world of their own, but I find a way to relate to them so that I can achieve my goals. I also get to know their families and truly become part of their lives." Sliker notes that the work of a physical therapist assistant is demanding. "We must be physically fit. I have an active, healthy lifestyle."

Greeting guests at the door were (l. to r.) alumnus Jessica Sliker, Program Coordinator Barbara Behrens, and program mascot "Perry Osteum" (as named by the PTA Class of 1998).

Baking students served chocolate tortes. They are pictured with instructors Anne Lumberger (in black jacket) and Rita Bohlumbohm (center).
Enjoying a chocolate feast are (left to right); current PTA students Emi Hata, Karen Zickler, Vicky Bassant, instructor Lavonne Couch,
and student John Viloria.
Regina Brown (left) and Rebecca Apgar are proud alumni of the PTA Class of 2004. They work together at CareOne in Ewing.
A party overview

One of the program's first graduates was Donna Mottola ('99), who originally attended Mercer in the 1980s and earned an AAS in General Business. Returning to school to attend the PTA program when her own children started school was "the best decision I ever made," she said. A clinician at Arcadia Nursing and Rehab Center in Hamilton Square, Mottola has found a good fit in this small facility with a family-like atmosphere. "The job market is such that you can pick and choose." Still, she observes, it's not a field for sissies. "I have always been into fitness and I wanted to help people. This field combines both." Mottola is currently considering continuing her education in pursuit of a degree in physical therapy.

Alumnus Regina Brown ('04) had also considered other career options before settling into Mercer's PTA program. A natural athlete, Brown played softball for MCCC and has also served as an assistant coach for women's basketball for five seasons. She now works at CareOne in Ewing, along with Rebecca Apgar, another 2004 grad. Brown observes, "I am passionate about the field. Every day is a workout. It's not for everybody, but every morning I get up and know that my day will bring something new and different. At the end of the day, I'm tired, but it's a good tired." More event photos here.

Supporters of "A Chocolate Affair" included two $500 scholarship donors: CareOne at Ewing and the New Jersey Chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association. Sponsors at the $100 level included: Coco Enterprises; Kristin Collins, PTA, Class of 2000; Current Therapeutics; FA Davis Co. Publishers; the MCCC DREAM program; Hamilton Physical Therapy Services; Hopewell Physical Therapy; Cindy Meyers, PTA, Class of 1998; Primal Pictures; and Sports Physical Therapy Institute. Chocolate donors included Carl Fischer Candies, Carella's Hallmark, Thomas Sweet, Lindt Chocolate Shop, Gertrude Hawk, and Cookie Cottage. All proceeds from the event will be donated to PTA program scholarships.

Physical therapist assistants provide a range of treatment interventions and patient care services under the supervision and direction of a physical therapist. They are employed in hospitals, pediatric, geriatric, rehabilitation, acute care and private outpatient facilities. For more on the program, click here.

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