A knack for anatomy
Undergraduate research in a kinesiology lab gave Joe Wentzel experience on the path to graduate study in physical therapy
Joe Wentzel always had a knack for anatomy and seemed destined for the medical field. He and his dad often discussed athletes’ injuries and recovery time and guessed how long it would take for them to return to their sports. With a mom in health care and a fire-fighting uncle, Wentzel knew he wanted a career of helping others. But he wasn’t sure whether being a doctor would be a fit.
Then in high school, Wentzel got a football injury. During rehab he discovered the field of physical therapy and later shadowed a physical therapist. He decided to pursue it.
“Having a strong family and being a true home-body, I never really thought of leaving Minnesota for school,” says Wentzel. He wanted the best possible education, and he wanted to do research, so the University of Minnesota was his clear choice.
Wentzel majored in kinesiology, the most common path to physical therapy. Then he got a job in the Human Sensorimotor Control Lab through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). Researchers in the lab work to increase understanding of how the human brain controls movement.
During his first semester in the lab, Wentzel collaborated with other lab members to make sure their studies were proceeding properly, prepared equipment, and took notes during experiments. During the last semester, he became a co-researcher in a study that tested proprioception—the perception of one’s body and its parts in space and relative to each other.
Among his tasks was working with healthy school-age children participating in the study. He did an excellent job, according to professor Juergen Konczak. Wentzel learned about many aspects of research.
The most challenging parts for Wentzel were in getting the study itself approved through the proper channels and finding participants that met the inclusion and exclusion criteria. The most enjoyable and rewarding part was presenting his research at Kinesiology Research Day, where he got to display and discuss the findings of the lab with peers and University faculty.
“I cannot imagine a nicer faculty than those in kinesiology,” says Wentzel. “As for working in the lab, I believe it’s something any undergraduate should try to do. Not only did it allow me to step outside the classroom and do something that I felt was meaningful but it helped me understand just how ground work in academia is built.”
After graduating with honors in May, Wentzel got a brief break from class—a time when he enjoys working on his car, fishing, and hiking with friends.
“I do have to admit that I have been sucked into the time-consuming world of fantasy football,” he confesses.
But July 15, Wentzel will enter the U’s physical therapy doctorate program. He is excited about the challenges of grad school and the opportunity to do something he enjoys.
Learn more about UROP.