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Recognition ceremony held for Northeast PTA students; program marks 25-years

Recognition ceremony held for Northeast PTA students; program marks 25-years

NORFOLK, Neb. - Members of the graduating class of Northeast Community College’s Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program are now prepared to enter the profession. The thirteen students from the Class of 2020 participated in a recognition ceremony, with social distancing in place, recently where they received their PTA pins before family, friends, faculty and staff in the Lifelong Learning Center on the Norfolk campus. It also marked the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the program at the College.

The Physical Therapist Assistant program at Northeast prepares students to work as valuable healthcare providers who are employable in any physical therapy setting. Students are trained with current technology and innovative exercise equipment to simulate realistic clinical settings.

The program also requires a 16-week clinical experience which took place in over 30 hospitals, outpatient clinics, and nursing homes across Nebraska as well as a few others out of state. The students are assigned a clinical instructor who oversee the students throughout their clinical rotation.

Tere Karella, PTA faculty member and academic coordinator of clinical education for the program, said Northeast students are prepared to enter the field.

“I travel the state every summer doing clinical site visits. Once again, this summer as I was out, I heard the statement over-and-over again, ‘Northeast PTA students know their stuff,’” she said. … “I thank all of you (students) for representing this college and program as the best in the state.”

Clinical instructors are physical therapists and physical therapist assistants who are not paid to be instructors, but volunteer their time with students, “because they believe in the future of physical therapy,” Karella said.

Also, during the ceremony, Andrea Suhr, faculty member and advisor of the PTA Club, outlined the number of meetings, fundraisers, and service learning projects the students took part in over the past year. 

In her keynote remarks, Lisa Finnegan, a longtime PTA educator who is now accreditation manager for Evidence in Motion (EIM), told the students to watch closely for opportunities and act upon them.

“I want you to keep in mind that you are more than just a PTA,” she said.

Finnegan shared several opportunities that have come her way that were not necessarily under the job description of a physical therapist assistant from the time she was still in school to her role today.

“One opportunity that I almost passed up enabled me to be qualified for jobs outside of the PT profession. I wouldn’t be working as a PTA, but I would be using my PTA skills,” she said. … “Look for needs, watch for opportunities and take action. This will make you more valuable, not only to employers, but also to your patients and members of your community.”

In her role at EIM, Finnegan, Las Vegas, Nevada, assists numerous universities across the country in achieving accreditation for their developing hybrid Doctorate in Physical Therapy and Doctorate in Occupational Therapy programs.

Margaret Earney, Chadron, PTA Club president, told her classmates that their instructors have prepared them well.

“I think I can speak for everyone when I say we all made some lasting friendships these last two-years. Be proud in knowing this accomplishment that you have done is no small feat,” Earney said. “I believe in each and every one of you to be the best, hardworking and determined PTAs out there because I’ve seen you that last year-and-a-half work for it.”

Other PTA Club officers this year were McKayla Mogensen, Cedar Rapids, vice president; Emily Harders, Grand Island, secretary, Caitlin Langer, Spalding, treasurer; and Audrey Dickmander, Brule, and Nia Votta, Norfolk, historians.

Additional members of the Class of 2020 include Ashley Gilsdorf, Columbus; Brianna Hajek, Odell; Rhiannon Herstedt, Alliance; Janece Paulson, Norfolk; Kaitlin Sukup, Winnetoon; Rachel Sundberg, Clarks; and Michaela Wurdinger, Stanton.

Laura Schwanebeck, Northeast PTA program director and instructor, extended appreciation to family members and friends of the students in standing by them as they completed their education.

“I think the graduates would agree with me when I say this would not have been possible without your love and support. You have been there to wipe away tears, provide words of encouragement, and celebrate the triumphs,” Schwanebeck said. “Today, you get to enjoy the outcome of those sacrifices and feel confident that it was all worth it.” 

The recognition program may be viewed online at




                                                            PHOTO CUTLINE 


Tere Karella, physical therapist assistant (PTA) at Northeast Community College, bumps elbows with Emily Harders, Grand Island, during the program’s 25th PTA Recognition Ceremony recently. Andrea Suhr, PTA faculty member is in the background. Harders and the program’s 12 others graduates received their PTA pins following the completion of their clinical work over the summer.