When COVID-19 Jeopardized His Graduation, Faculty Support Helped Get Him Through

Emily Barrett, assistant director of communications
DPT student Wade Warmkessel at his undergraduate commencement
Wade Warmkessel '20, shown above (left) at his undergraduate ceremony in 2016, is one of the approximate 1,100 graduates earning a degree from Widener this month.

When Wade Warmkessel earned his undergraduate degree in biology, he began scouring the Greater Philadelphia area for the right graduate physical therapy program. During an initial visit to Widener’s nationally recognized program one thing stood out: the staff. 

“When I got to Widener I just felt more comfortable and the faculty seemed very accommodating,” said Warmkessel. “I had good vibes.”

This month, after his academic track was nearly derailed by the Coroanvirus pandemic, Warmkessel will be one of the nearly 1,100 graduates earning a degree from Widener.

In his third and final year with the doctor of physical therapy (DPT) program, Warmkessel’s full-time clinical placement, like many of his classmates, was put on hold as a result of temporary closures at clinical sites across the country. Having not yet hit the requirements needed to graduate, Warmkessel found himself at a loss. 

Sandra L. Campbell
Warmkessel credits the support of Dr. Sandy Campbell, among others, for helping him make it to graduation.

“I had the hours but I wasn’t at entry-level performance yet, so I was very concerned about if I was going to graduate in time or will I have to wait a few months to come back into clinic,” Warmkessel said.  

Unable to fulfill the clinical criteria needed to graduate, Warmkessel turned to the support of Clinical Associate Professor Dr. Sandy Campbell, Director of Clinical Education. 

As clinical sites began to close in rapid succession in response to COVID-19, Campbell was called to act quickly to find placements for Warmkessel and a number of students in similar predicaments.

“We literally sat down with every student and said ‘Where are you and what are your needs?’” Campbell explained.  

With modified guidance from the program’s accrediting body, Campbell, along with fellow faculty member Dr. Ellen Erdman, utilized clinical connections and the DPT alumni network, and moved quickly to find open sites that were willing and able to take in students.

I really didn’t think it was possible at all. They were working around the clock. —Wade Warmkessel '20

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, physical therapy faculty, along with faculty and staff across the university, have worked tirelessly to shift the remainder of the semester online. Their efforts are nothing short of herculean as they continue to meet students’ needs and keep them on track to earn their respective degrees.

After a weeks of working to find substitute sites, Campbell placed Warmkessel in a new outpatient clinic run by program alumna Kelly Moletress, PT, DPT. Adhering to state guidelines, Warmkessel was able to deliver needed therapy to clients and demonstrate the required entry-level competency.  

“Our goal was to get as many as we could across the line, and considering when it started it looked like that number was zero, to the fact that we are now sitting between 40 and possibly 42, out of 45 [graduating], I’m pretty happy with that,” said Campbell. 

As his career at Widener comes to a close, Warmkessel is grateful to everyone who helped him along the way. 

“I’ve been very fortunate. I have a really great support system and our teachers at Widener have been awesome,” he said.

It may have been the “good vibes” from faculty that drew Warmkessel to the program, but it’s their commitment to student success that is seeing him out.  


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