College of Health and Behavioral Studies

#CHBSChats with Katherine Kowalk

Read more about Katherine's honors program experience and her choice to go to grad school


Series produced by: Morgan Bond
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Katherine Kowalk

What attracted you to the health sciences major? 

Coming into college, I was unsure of what career path I wanted to pursue but I knew I wanted to do something in healthcare. After analyzing many different major choices, I ultimately decided on health sciences. I found the health sciences curriculum to be personally interesting, with classes I was genuinely excited about. This major encompasses people from all different pre-professional tracks and faculty of all different specialties and interests. This helped guide me to discover my passion for individuals with special needs, ultimately pursuing occupational therapy. 

What sparked your interest in occupational therapy?  

After volunteering with Helping Hands in a classroom for children with special needs, I immediately knew I wanted to work with this unique population. Not too long after, I started working in a nursing home as an aide where I first saw an occupational therapist in practice. I was immediately intrigued with this profession, especially with the emphasis on the patient’s unique goals and incorporating activities of daily living into therapeutic practice. Occupational therapy is a unique profession in which you can work with many different populations in many different settings which attracted me to the career. I am excited to continue my education on my journey to become an occupational therapist. 

Tell us about your senior honors project? 

For my senior honors project, I decided to pilot a healthy relationships curriculum entitled “Unequal Partners” at Harrisonburg High School. I ended up piloting three lessons out of the curriculum to a group of students during their extended learning time. Through this experience I was able take data in order to determine if the curriculum was successful in teaching students about characteristics of a healthy relationship, effective communication skills as well as helpful resources as well as process evaluation data in order to determine if the students valued the program and found it engaging and effective. 

Why did you feel that it was important to implement and evaluate a healthy relationships program in Harrisonburg High School? 

When deciding what my senior honors project, I came across the statistic that 1 in 11 high school students report being physically hit by their significant other. This statistic shocked me and opened my eyes to the prevalence of intimate partner violence among our youth. This experience led me to evaluate educational programs that can educate students on the importance of healthy relationships with the goal to reduce the prevalence of intimate partner violence. The “Unequal Partners” curriculum has limited evaluations to determine its effectiveness, so I decided to pilot this curriculum at our local public high school. Although this was a huge project to complete, I think it is important to give students the skills and knowledge to take control of their relationships and prevent destructive relationships. Even if I was able to reach only a small population of students, knowing that I’ve had a positive impact on even on students’ relationships makes it all worth it. 

Can you tell us what graduate school you will be attending and why you decided to continue your education? 

I have decided to attend Ohio State University to complete my Doctorate of Occupational Therapy. In order to practice as an occupational therapist, you need a Masters or Doctorate level education. I decided to pursue a Doctorate because the field of occupational therapy is moving toward requiring a terminal degree starting in 2025 which will put me at the same educational level as my colleagues graduating after that date. In addition, I felt that the doctorate degree would give me the experience to be competitive in the workplace and become the best clinician I can be in order to provide and advocate for my clients. Ohio State has an amazing program and I instantly was impressed by their state-of-the-art facilities as well as their compassionate and dedicated faculty. 

 What excites you most about graduate school? 

I am most excited to be surrounded by individuals with the same passions and aspirations as me. I am eager to begin coursework that directly pertains to my areas of interest while challenging me academically. I cannot wait to take the next steps in my education to become an occupational therapist! 

How did JMU's health sciences program prepare you for graduate school and your future goals? 

The health sciences program at James Madison University has allowed me to explore various facets of health care and obtain a broad understanding of health and healthcare as a whole. In addition, the program allows students to tailor their education to fit his/her goals and unique interests which allowed me to find my unique passions within healthcare. The health sciences faculty is exceptionally talented and has guided me throughout my undergraduate career. I feel well prepared going into graduate school as a result of my education here at JMU. 


Just for fun...

  • Favorite thing to do in Harrisonburg? 
    There are so many unique restaurants in Harrisonburg! My friends and I love to find a new place to try! 

  • Last good movie you saw? 
    The Greatest Showman

  • Do you have any hobbies? 
    I enjoy spending time with my family, friends, and of course my dog! (I have a 1-year-old golden retriever!) 

  • Favorite junk food? 
    I love the Girl Scout cookie- Thin Mints! 

Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Last Updated: Tuesday, April 24, 2018

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