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Arnold School of Public Health

Exercise science graduate pursues career in physical therapy working with neurodiverse children

December 20, 2021 | Erin Bluvas,

Originally from Illinois, Kathryn (Katy) Maxwell’s short list of potential colleges included universities with warm weather and big football. It was UofSC’s traditions and history that ultimately led her to South Carolina to study exercise science.

Growing up as a competitive dancer, Maxwell was interested in anatomy and wanted to pursue a career related to movement and how the body works. It was her experiences as a research assistant in Jill Stewart’s Motor Development and Neuroimaging Laboratory that helped Maxwell refine her focus to a career in physical therapy.

“If it had not been for working with Dr. Stewart, I would not have decided to pursue physical therapy,” Maxwell says of the associate professor and physical therapist. “She has taught me a lot about the neurological side of physical therapy, which has become one of my main interests.”

The lab’s focus on hand and arm rehabilitation for stroke survivors sparked Maxwell’s passion for neuroscience and inspired her thesis on the effect of standing capability and functional arm training for individuals who have experienced a stroke. The Honors College (No. 1 among public universities) student plans to build on this knowledge by learning about physical therapy for children with neurodiversity, specifically early indicators associated with autism spectrum disorders.

The next step in pursing this career will see Maxwell attending the physical therapy program at Creighton University in 2022. She plans to specialize in pediatric physical therapy and become certified in the TheraSuit Intensive Method to better support those with neurological conditions, particularly Cerebral Palsy. 

“My ultimate goal is to be an advocate for pediatric physical therapy and make it more accessible to families,” Maxwell says.  

Outside of her program (where she maintained a 4.0), Maxwell led community volunteer efforts as her sorority’s vice president for philanthropy and served as a staff member for Dance Marathon to support Prisma’s Child Life Program. Off campus, she gained experience at Carolina Women’s Physical Therapy and Wellness and interned at a STEM-based program for children ages 5-13. She put her minor in Spanish to good use as a committee member for Recursos Médicos SC and as an ESL volunteer at a local elementary school.

“Find what you are passionate about to influence your career and studies,” Maxwell advises current and future students. “It wasn’t until I found my desire to serve the pediatric and neurodiverse community that I really started to engage in the public health community. Public health is a vary broad subject, which allows everyone to find what they are passionate about.”

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