Sep 25, 2018Course Correction
According to a recent story in The Daily Republic, the athletic training education program at Dakota Wesleyan University didn’t have a lot to be proud of back in 2001. With few resources, professors were forced to offer key classes only every other year. And when it came time to take the BOC certifying exam, students often struggled to pass.
Fast forward to today, and Dakota Wesleyan’s athletic training students would not recognize that program. One of the school’s most popular and respected majors, involving 55 of the school’s fewer than 1,000 students, the program has had a near-perfect record for certifying students over the past four years. Nearly 97 percent of graduates have reported getting jobs or enrolling in a further degree program six months after graduation. As a result, the athletic training education program now has a reputation for being tough, yet rewarding, and for putting students on a promising career path.
According to Lana Loken, EdD, ATC, who came on board in 2001 as Dakota Wesleyan’s Clinical Education Coordinator and an Athletic Training Preceptor and Professor, the first and most important step in the transformation was changing the program’s culture. Dr. Loken works alongside Dan Wagner, EdD, ATC, the Director of Athletic Training, who also arrived in 2001. Together, they focused on establishing an atmosphere of excellence.
“When we first came here in 2001, they didn’t have a history of success,” Dr. Loken said. “But the biggest thing was that we changed our expectations. It was OK here to have that (underachieving) environment. And we didn’t accept that. We expected a higher standard, so our students expect that, and when they talk to incoming students, they tell you, this will be hard but it will be worth it.”
Next, Drs. Loken and Wagner turned their attention to resources, convincing the school’s administration that they needed more support in order to teach important courses every year. They then devised a program where students spend as much time as possible treating athletes hands-on — an advantage to being at a smaller school, according to Dr. Wagner, the recipient of this year’s South Dakota Athletic Trainers’ Association Educator of the Year Award.
“We have seniors out there working with rehabilitations,” he said. “At South Dakota State University, a student doesn’t get to work with (eventual NFL tight end) Dallas Goedert. That just doesn’t happen.”
Embracing cutting-edge technology is one more way Drs. Loken and Wagner have raised the bar for the program. The major takes advantage of a university iPad initiative to enable students to learn topics like anatomy and bone structure in a more effective and interesting way.
The improvements have come just in time to allow Dakota Wesleyan to get out in front of another change happening in athletic training — the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education’s ruling that entering the field now requires a master’s degree. In response, Dakota Wesleyan became the first school in South Dakota to create a master’s degree in athletic training that students can finish in five years. The curriculum includes three years of basic courses, followed by summer, fall, and spring sessions for two more years. A clinical immersion finishes the degree in the final semester.
It’s clear that students are proud of what they are achieving in the revamped Dakota Wesleyan program.
“I just feel like we are challenged so much as students,” said Morgan Ziegler, currently a senior. ” – they know what we’re capable of and where we want to go.”