‘This was a unique time to use my passion’

Maura Eaton, a physical therapy student at Northeastern, is the recipient of an Outstanding Graduate Student Award in Leadership. Photo courtesy of Maura Eaton.

Last year, Maura Eaton and her classmates stocked an orphanage in Latacunga, a plateau town in Ecuador, with ankle and foot braces, balls, mats, and wheelchairs.

While they were in Ecuador, the nearly 20-member group of physical therapy students from Northeastern, their professor, and a pediatric physical therapist, also provided physical therapy to children at another orphanage in the country’s capital, Quito. The weeklong trip, said Eaton, a doctoral student of physical therapy at Northeastern, was easily one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.

“I had always valued community service and helping others but this was a unique time to use my passion for physical therapy and my passion for helping others,” she said. 

When they weren’t busy treating the children or teaching on-site physical therapists and caretakers how to use the supplies, Eaton and her group took in a zip-lining excursion, and served a meal to night workers at a local sanitation and recycling center.

“I got to use my Spanish skills throughout this trip—including medical terminology that is used in the medical Spanish classes I took here at Northeastern—which was an added bonus,” she said.

Upon returning to the U.S., Eaton completed a capstone research project that looked into the efficacy of a screening tool she and her group used in Ecuador to collect information about the pediatric patients. She then collaborated with a professor in the Khoury College of Computer Sciences to create a (yet-to-be implemented) database for the orphanage system in Ecuador that tracks the data collected on each child’s development and evaluation.

“This was an invaluable experience where I got to have first-person experience with research design, implementation of a research protocol, data collection, and data analysis,” Eaton said. 

A mentor to younger students as an orientation leader, resident assistant, and peer tutor, Eaton has helped create programs on campus—such as one on how to be financially savvy while studying abroad—and she has participated in phone-a-thons and student panels, as well as assisted with student open houses.

She has been a class representative for her physical therapy doctoral program and served as president of the Northeastern Physical Therapy Club. Last year, she was chosen to be a student teaching assistant, working with professors to run weekly lab sessions for underclassmen, encouraging critical thinking and clinical decision making, and serving as a patient for case studies.

Eaton’s achievements have earned her an Outstanding Graduate Student Award in Leadership, which honors exceptional students for their significant contributions and accomplishments while pursuing a graduate degree at Northeastern.

The award recognizes graduate students who have demonstrated significant leadership and a deep commitment to giving back to members of the Northeastern community or neighborhoods surrounding their location.   

Eric Folmar, an associate program chair and assistant clinical professor in the department of physical therapy, movement, and rehabilitation sciences at Northeastern, lauded Eaton’s leadership, commitment to Northeastern and the physical therapy profession, and stellar academic record.

“Leadership involves setting an example for those to follow, inspiring others to take action, engaging and motivating peers, and elevating one self and others,” he wrote in his recommendation letter for Eaton. “Maura exemplifies all of these qualities.”

Eaton said she was honored and flattered to receive the award.

“When I got the call, I was speechless, which is not typical, for anyone who knows me,” she said. “The nomination process gave me a great opportunity to reflect on all the amazing opportunities I have had in my six years at Northeastern and the impact they have had to make me the person, leader, and healthcare professional that I am today.” 

Eaton is now studying for her licensing board exam for physical therapy and preparing to graduate with her doctorate of physical therapy in May. She said she’d like to work in an acute care hospital or an acute rehabilitation hospital in Massachusetts while remaining involved in the American Physical Therapy Association of Massachusetts

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