Leading the Pack: Davis sees family all around her

Maintaining a family philosophy – Julie Davis of Benton, director of SIU Carbondale’s Physical Therapy Assistant Program, is the 2019 E.J. and Mary C. Simon Distinguished Faculty Award recipient from the College of Applied Sciences and Arts. (Photo by Russell Bailey)

Leading the Pack is a regular feature that highlights faculty and staff members who go above and beyond to fulfill SIU’s Mission. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured, fill out our nomination form.

Before Julie Davis was a student herself and later associate professor and director of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) program, she had the unique opportunity to consider program faculty a part of her family.

That feeling of being surrounded by family sticks with Davis today, many years since her mother was the administrator at a Carbondale nursing home. She used to spend her summers hanging out there.

“The physical therapy department was the coolest place to hang out,” Davis recalled.

Earned 2019 E.J. and Mary C. Simon Distinguished Faculty Award

Much of the same family philosophy gets imparted to students, who spend two and a half years together and remain close after they graduate.

“It’s kind of nice to be a part of that. It’s like having a new family every year,” said Davis, whose knowledge, compassion and classroom dedication are among the reasons for her selection as the College of Applied Sciences and Arts’ 2019 E.J. and Mary C. Simon Distinguished Faculty Award recipient. Davis will speak at the college’s Honors Day ceremony on April 6.

Simon Award established in 2005

The Simon Award acknowledges and celebrates lifetime achievement in teaching and other activities related to the education and general welfare of CASA students. It honors the founding dean of the college and his wife.

E.J. Simon was dean from the college’s inception in 1951 until his retirement in 1970, and Simon and his wife, Mary C. Simon, remained strong supporters of the university and the college.  E.J. Simon died in 1989; Mary Simon passed away in 2011.

Part of the college as an instructor for 20 years

Davis has been with the School of Allied Health since 1998, recruited by her mentor and then-program director Jan Rogers to serve as a visiting assistant professor. An associate professor since 2011, Davis, who lives in Benton, became program director in 2013 upon Rogers’ retirement.

Sandra K. Collins, professor and program director with the Health Care Management Program, nominated Davis and wrote that while Davis holds students to high standards and her classes are among the most difficult within the PTA program, Davis is “also hailed as one of their (students) favorite professors.”   

Has earned numerous awards but impact goes beyond academics

Davis has earned the college’s Teacher of the Year Award and School of Allied Health’s Teacher of the Year Award each three times. In 2017, program graduates earned a 100 percent pass rate on the license examination – a first in the program’s 50-year history. Davis also spearheaded the program’s 10-year reaccreditation last year.

Davis’s mentorship doesn’t stop once students graduate. Davis “remains a cheerleader for students, constantly reminding them of their potential and eager to help them achieve it, even after they leave her classroom and her program,” Collins wrote.

Continuing a family atmosphere

The program can feature a varied mix in the 30 students accepted into the program annually. Davis said it’s easy to get to know students because they spend a lot of time together, whether in a lecture or lab, studying or hanging out.

The students include teenage high school graduates to students in their 30s and 40s who are embarking on a new career. Ashton Culver of Christopher, a former school teacher, wrote Davis instantly took students in the class “under her wing and put in the extra time to help us with anything we needed.” Davis also provided reassurance as the workload increased during the second year into summer internships ahead of licensure.

Michelle Bonner of West Frankfort wrote that Davis always made time for students and offered help and motivation. If students believed they were overwhelmed, Davis reminded students why they were there.

“She not only invested her time into the program. She invested her time in every single one of us,” Bonner wrote. “She believed in all of us, before we even started believing in ourselves. I think that says a lot about her as a person, teaching aside.”

Many students go straight into the workforce after earning their license, while others pursue bachelor’s degrees in fields including health care management, exercise science and physical therapy.

Program’s strength is its faculty

Davis emphasizes one of the program’s strengths is the faculty’s commitment to students. Many faculty, including Davis, are program alumni. Davis earned her associate degree in PTA and a bachelor’s degree in advanced technical studies (now technical resource management) from SIU. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and master’s degree in physical therapy from Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida.

Davis and her husband, Andrew, live in Benton. Two of the couples’ five children, Nicholas and Darrian Freeman, are both juniors at SIU Carbondale. Nicholas is majoring in criminology and criminal justice while Darrian is studying mortuary science and funeral service.

Davis was working as staff physical therapist in Carbondale in 1988 when Rogers approached her about teaching a class in the program. She said Rogers is her “mentor” and “probably the most single influential person to me being here at SIU.”

Alumni keep in touch

Davis said it is rewarding that former students stay in touch with the program after they graduate. Her goal is that students embark on a career they can do for a long time and enjoy. And that doesn’t mean lessening expectations in the classroom.

“Students will meet whatever standard you set for them. If you lower that standard they will meet that standard,” she said. “But rather than lowering our standard for them we push them to come up to our standard and they meet it. Because they care about it, sometimes it feels like they don’t want to disappoint us.”

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