KINGSTON, R.I. – May 5, 2008 – Central Falls resident Elka Arredondo has come a long way since moving with her family from her native Colombia in 2000.
Despite knowing little English when she arrived in the U.S. as a freshman in high school, she will graduate from the University of Rhode Island on May 18 as the top student in the kinesiology program. And she is already well on her way to earning her doctorate in physical therapy.
“When we came to the U.S., we were looking for a better life, job opportunities, and a better future,” Arredondo said.
The URI student has taken advantage of every opportunity that has come her way.
As a sophomore at Central Falls High School, she underwent physical therapy as a result of lower back pain, and her therapy sessions not only relieved her pain but also sparked her interest in the physical therapy profession. A year later, she served as an intern at Liberty Physical Therapy in Lincoln. These experiences led her to enroll in URI’s program in kinesiology, the study of human movement.
While she excelled at her coursework, Arredondo learned last summer that she could get a head-start on graduate school by participating in URI’s Early Contingent Physical Therapy Program, which allows undergraduates in their last year of classes to take graduate level coursework and have it count toward completion of both a bachelor’s degree and the first year of a doctoral program.
“It has been very challenging, but it’s also been a great experience,” she said. “I have had a lot of hands-on work, including dissecting a human cadaver to study the muscles, the blood supply, nerves, tendons and ligaments. It was pretty intense.
“Sometimes I forgot that I was the only undergrad in a class of older students, and I worried whether I was going to get through it. But in the end I’m very happy that I did it.”
As if her coursework wasn’t difficult enough, Arredondo filled her limited free time with a wide range of activities. As a freshman she was president of Teatro Latino, a Latino theater group on campus that performed a series of plays, and she volunteered at a physical therapy clinic in Lincoln.
Arredondo also served as a resident assistant in the URI residence halls for two years.
“I became an RA because I thought I was too quiet and not very social and I wanted to be a student leader,” she said. “I wanted to be a role model and guide first year students when they came to URI. It was a challenge for me because I was so quiet, but it helped me to become more open. And I had a lot of fun planning programs for my residents. I also learned to have a balance between disciplining them and being someone they could come to for assistance.”
After earning her bachelor’s degree on May 18, Arredondo will return to URI for two more years to complete her doctorate, after which she hopes to provide physical therapy to older residents, perhaps even at her own clinic.
“I plan to specialize in geriatrics because I really like to work with older people,” she said with a smile. “They’re a lot of fun to work with, and they’re always surprised that a young woman like me can help them so much.”