How CHOICES weekend led to JMU experience that was “better than I could have imagined”


by Lindsey Park

Kinesiology major Rebecca Tidwell's experiences range from chainsawyer to rescue squad to ROTC.

Rebecca Tidwell, a senior, who committed to JMU after a CHOICES weekend for prospective students in 2019, has grown deep roots at JMU and the surrounding community and describes her experience as “better than I could have imagined.”

"I knew I wanted to major in Kinesiology during high school, but CHOICES definitely helped me make that decision," said Tidwell.

Her interests in sports and outdoors led her to major in Kinesiology, focusing in exercise science, and minoring in Military Leadership with Army ROTC.

“When touring Godwin, I loved the atmosphere in the KIN building. I loved the Human Performance Lab, and thought it was so cool that there were multiple gyms and even a pool in the building,” said Tidwell.

Also, during her weekend at CHOICES, she spoke with an ROTC recruiter “for hours” and became interested in getting involved with Army ROTC.

COVID-19 campus closures cut her freshman year in-person experiences short. Nevertheless, when she returned to campus in 2021, Tidwell became involved on campus and in the local community to form a well-rounded college experience.

During the summer break between her sophomore and junior years, Tidwell found herself looking for something to do while living in Harrisonburg. “I’ve always liked doing volunteer stuff,” said Tidwell. “I didn’t just want to sit in my house.” After searching the internet for opportunities in nearby national and state parks, Tidwell read about the Appalachian Conservation Corp (ACC).

According to their website, the ACC “works to connect young people to critical conservation service projects across the Appalachian region and neighboring communities.” After receiving a job offer, Tidwell was asked if she was interested in joining a crew that specialized in work with chainsaws.

“I had never touched a chainsaw before,” said Tidwell, but despite that fact, she decided to try something new and joined the chainsaw crew.

Work at the ACC would occur within a nine-day “hitch,” followed by five days off, on rotation throughout the summer. While on a hitch, the crew would hike to a location, set up camp, and work in the surrounding area.

“Every single time we were camping,” said Tidwell. “Sometimes you had running water, sometimes you didn’t. We had to bring all our own food and cook everything.”

Despite the hard work and harsh conditions, Tidwell said “I really enjoyed it.”

Some of the conservation projects Tidwell worked on included removing invasive species with chainsaws, then spraying herbicides to prevent their return. Another one had Tidwell and the chainsaw crew felling trees into a creek in order to raise the water level and provide habitats for fish.

In addition to gaining forestry knowledge and chainsaw skills, Tidwell also connected her experiences to both her ROTC and Kinesiology education.

Rebecca Tidwell“Everything they teach you here in ROTC is leadership based,” said Tidwell. “This job definitely helped me step out of my comfort zone, to learn to be confident.”

Proper chainsaw use relies heavily on communication and accountability to make sure everyone in the vicinity is safe. “If something was going wrong, I had to step up,” said Tidwell. “I’m responsible to say something. If they get hurt and I didn’t say something, it’s on me.”

Her knowledge of biomechanics, a concept she learned about through her Kinesiology major, also came in handy when she was wielding the chainsaw.

She made the connection between Kinesiology and her role as a chain sawyer through a metaphor commonly used in her biomechanics class. “When you swing a golf club, you move your whole body.” Tidwell had to learn how to maneuver her whole body properly due to the weight of the chainsaw. Otherwise, Tidwell said, “your arms get exhausted and you can’t do it anymore.”

Tidwell volunteered at the Harrisonburg Rescue Squad from March 2022 until May 2023. “During that time, I volunteered for 36 hours a month, became a certified driver, and went through their semester-long EMT course,” said Tidwell.

Her time with the Harrisonburg Rescue Squad also formed a connection to her Kinesiology studies. Giving one example, Tidwell said “we’d talk about cardiac issues in class, then I’d know exactly what they’re talking about” since she had observed the conditions on patients in the field. Tidwell explained that by being able to rely on real-life experiences from her volunteer work with the Rescue Squad, “it really helped me because I could visualize it instead of just memorizing it.”

“I would definitely encourage students to get involved. There's so many great local opportunities and I have learned something valuable from each experience,” said Tidwell.

“Volunteering in the community not only allows you to feel good about the services you are providing, but also gives great experiences, fun memories, can create new skills, and you meet so many new people, creating connections,” said Tidwell.

“When I graduate, I’m going to commission into the army as an Air Defense Officer,” said Tidwell. “I didn't know what to expect going into college, but I have loved my time at JMU, met so many new friends, had some great opportunities, and have learned so much.”


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Published: Monday, February 19, 2024

Last Updated: Tuesday, February 20, 2024

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