Teamwork and Practicum Enable SCSU Exercise Science Student to Find Dream Job

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For Jessica Renzo, guidance came in the form of mentorship from a close-knit group of exercise science professors at SCSU. A transfer student and athlete, Jessica was unsure of the direction she wanted to move in among the sciences. Though she had intended to change her major to chemistry upon arrival to SCSU, her academic advisor at the time, Dr. William Lunn, convinced Jessica to pursue Exercise Science instead. As the two reviewed the coursework together, Biomechanics caught her eye.

Biomechanics, an upper-level course in human performance taught by Dr. Robert Gregory, served as a powerful motivator for her to continue in the program. The first day of the course, Dr. Gregory shared his background with Jessica’s class, speaking about his work in the exercise science field and how he came to teach at SCSU. His story made an impression on Jessica, and she found a mentor in him immediately. “The moment the class ended, I made a bee-line straight to him and introduced myself. I told him the strange things I caught myself analyzing and being able to relate, and we shared a laugh,” Jessica remembered.

Inspired by her study of Biomechanics, Jessica found herself motivated to enroll in an independent study, a course that allows students to pursue specific topics of interest under the close guidance of a professor. Jessica worked with Dr. David Kemler for her Independent Study, and still remembers the advice he gave his students the first week of class: choose your study topic based on the job you’d like to have in the future. Jessica recalled knowing exactly which topic she wanted to pursue, but needed help with framing the study in respect to time and research required. “I knew my next step was to go to Dr. Gregory; he could help guide me toward a topic that was achievable.” And he did.

Professor Gregory worked with Jessica to help her develop a viable independent study topic: The Effects of Gender Differences on Lower Extremity Running Kinematics. This study led to a practicum with Professor Gregory at SCSU’s Connecticut Running Injury Clinic, housed in the Human Performance Lab on campus. The practicum connected Jessica to Mr. Theodore Niedzela, recreational triathlete and Senior Product Manager of New Products in the Research & Development Department for Timex Group, USA Inc. in Middlebury, CT. Fortuitously, their work together one day in the lab and interactions afterward led to a job at Timex for Jessica post-graduation.

Jessica remembers her excitement about the idea of working at Timex, but also admits she was nervous to interview for a position in the Engineering Department because at the time she felt that she didn’t know enough about the field. Jessica’s professors helped her put her worries to rest, however, by making the valuable experience she had gained during her coursework at SCSU evident. “They actually told me that I was overqualified! And they worked with me on my resume, explaining what I learned through my time there, and actually seeing it on paper, written professionally, I thought wow, that sounds really impressive! And they said, well that’s everything you’re learning in class!”

Since being hired last year, Jessica has continued to expand her professional skills. “I’ve been dabbling in Software Engineering and Electrical Engineering and there’s a lot of freedom in it, a lot of potential as well. It’s wonderful because I can always look to the next step or consider what I’d like to learn more of, so there’s a lot of opportunity to continue learning here at Timex.”

Timex's beddit product sleep study

Jessica conducts a sleep study with one of Timex’s Beddit products.

At Timex for the past year as a Product Performance Technical Aid, Jessica utilizes the day-to-day practical skills and experience acquired during her practicum. “Basically I administer testing and work with participants one-on-one, setting them up for whatever device that they will be using during the test. Then I record the data and write reports that reflect our findings. Also part of my job is to go test these products, so I get to put on our watches and go for a 5K, or a mile-and-a-half walk. Recently, we had to test one of our products in the water, so we had to go swim in the lake that’s down the road. So I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Jessica attributes much of her success and job satisfaction to the group of professors who shared their knowledge and space in the Human Performance Lab during her undergraduate career. “The professors were always easily accessible, and they have great relationships with each other, genuine and healthy, something that really helps when you’re in that environment and you’re growing with them during your undergraduate years. I have to thank all of them for giving me their patience, knowledge, and support, even when I doubted myself throughout.”

It’s a sentiment that perhaps many students without prior knowledge of any given field might feel as they begin studying at the university level. “I feel very fortunate… Dr. Gregory offered me all these resources early on by letting me assist him in the lab and by allowing me to work closely with him in the Running Injury Clinic he had just established,” Jessica said. “Then he and Dr. Robert Axtell guided me through every aspect of my hiring process. Little did I know that all of these things were going to greatly impact my time at SCSU and enable me to attain this job that I love. I’ve spoken to a lot of students that are in the program about my experience; I’ve gone through it all, so I promote it. I tell them to go for it, talk to the professors, ask the professors, and you’ll learn so much.”

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