Finding the Perfect Balance

Hilary Bentman, Brand Journalist
Dance student in a mid-air jump in front of the 'W' statue
Freshman Ijjae Hill is combining her lifelong love of dance and her passion for physical therapy into an academic course of study that will help her achieve her goal of opening a joint PT clinic-dance studio.

Freshman Ijjae Hill has been dancing since age two, competing since age five. She’s done it all – tap, ballet, hip hop, jazz.

But dancing took its toll. In high school, she suffered back issues and was in a car accident. Hill ended up in physical therapy.

That’s where she discovered her second love. Watching physical therapists help get people back on their feet, Hill knew she wanted to do the same.

But Hill wasn’t willing to put away her dance shoes. And that’s how she came to Widener.

At Widener, I can combine the two things I absolutely love. I’ve been able to create my own path. It’s the best of both worlds. — Ijjae Hill '23 '25

Through the 3+3 pre-physical therapy pathway, Hill is majoring in visual and performing arts with a concentration in dance and arts administration. She will eventually transition into the physical therapy doctoral program, expecting to graduate in 2025. Her career goal is to open a joint PT clinic-dance studio where patients rehabilitate and take classes.

“It’s perfect harmony,” said Hill, noting that dance and PT are complementary. “You have to be aware of how the body moves and how significant that is.”

At Widener, students like Hill can combine their interests into unique courses of study – ones that fit their needs and career aspirations. With more than 40 undergraduate majors and 50 minors, the university is well positioned to support the professional and personal development of each student. 

Combining fields of study and, more specifically, acquiring the skills embedded in them, is a value added for employers, said Janet Long, executive director of Widener’s Office of Career Design and Development.

“Employers look for candidates who are well rounded,” said Long. “When you combine majors and minors, even eyebrow-raising ones, it can help steer you toward a career and help you stand out as an applicant. What makes Widener unique is we can accommodate students in doing this.” 

Supportive professors and advisors help students navigate their different pathways.

I came in and told my professors what I wanted to do. I was able to create my own story. I couldn’t have done it without the support system at Widener. — Iman Elkhashab ’19

The French Connection

As an aspiring doctor it’s no surprise that Iman Elkhashab '19 majored in biology and minored in chemistry. But she added a major in French because she hopes to ultimately start and build an organization focusing on international health.

“When you work in the medical field and have several languages under your belt, you can relate to different people. It will make me a better provider, a better doctor, and a better thinker,” said Elkhashab, who also speaks Arabic. “And you foster a lot of skills in the humanities – creative thinking and learning to read between the lines.”

Studying a language is making accounting major Kentz Gustave ’22, and international relations major Fanta Koita ’21 more marketable. Both added French to their repertoire and both credit the language with helping them land internships in nearby Philadelphia – Gustave at the Quebec Trade Office; Koita at the French American Chamber of Commerce.

“Knowing another language is also knowing another culture which allows us to communicate better with different people and in the business world it is very important to be able to communicate,” said Gustave. “We live in a society where the EQ (emotional quotient) is now more important than the IQ to be successful in the business world.”

Science meets Social Science

Aspiring researcher Theresa Kash ’19 entered Widener as a biochemistry major. But freshman year she worked on a project that opened her eyes to environmental justice issues.

Kash realized she wanted an education and a career with “the social justice aspect and dealing with government and policy, but also stick with science.” She added a political science minor, and “the combination of my major and minor is where I am right now.”

And that’s at the University of Pennsylvania pursuing a master’s degree in public health focusing on environmental health. She hopes to work for the Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental justice department.

“Even though Widener doesn’t have a public health degree, my major and minor set me on the right path, preparing me in research, which is the analytical and qualitative side, and in policy, focusing on law and the role of the government,” said Kash.

Kelly Gabbett wants to “add as many tools to my toolbox as possible.” Like Hill, she’s part of the 3+3 pre-physical therapy pathway but chose psychology as her route to the doctoral degree to help her better understand “how and why patients respond emotionally, what helps motivate them.”

Gabbett has added a biofeedback certification, and is pursuing a minor in management to hone the skills she’ll need to open her own practice.  

“At Widener, I can customize my education toward my interests. Most schools want you to fit in this mold. Widener wasn’t forcing that,” said Gabbett. “This is a more well-rounded education and it makes me more marketable.”

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