William & Mary

Mackenzie Roby '08 Finds Natural Fit with Physical Therapy

Mackenzie Roby '08Mackenzie Roby '08 finds a home in the Kinesiology Department, where she integrates her interests in scientific research and physical activity to pursue her career goals in Physical Therapy.

In high school, Mackenzie Roby '08 was an athlete many times over, a member of the soccer, volleyball, and swim teams. "Playing sports got me interested in becoming a physical therapist," Mackenzie explained. She was attracted to the College by its impressive reputation, and a major in kinesiology was the perfect fit. Adair Hall, the building in which the Kinesiology Department is based, "has become like my second home," she said.

Mackenzie enjoyed the rigor of the program, and her courses ran the scientific gamut. "It's a lot of anatomy and physiology, much of it related to brain functions," she said of the major. "All of the sciences are involved." Mackenzie's particular interest is in muscle physiology, as well as motor control and motor learning.

Her academic performance quickly earned her research opportunities with two of her kinesiology professors, Michael Deschenes and Robert Kohl.

With Professor Deschenes she researched physiological adaptations of the neuromuscular system, working mainly in the summer. "I would train rats in either resistance or endurance - rats with weights tied to their tails, rats running on treadmills." When examined under the microscope, these animals' neuromuscular development has many corollaries and applications to human physiology.

With Professor Kohl she has been researching motor imagery through an independent study. Motor imagery involves "visualizing and mentally taking yourself through an action before you do it - divers do it a lot, and it's been shown to boost their performance." A large amount of scholarship has been published on the subject, and Mackenzie works with Professor Kohl to review the literature and examine the relationship between motor imagery and actual motor execution. "How much do these two processes overlap in terms of brain activation, underlying processes, performance, and influencing factors? How much are these two processes just that: separate processes?"

"The student-teacher relationships in my department are incredible," she said. "The professors will do anything for you. Professors Kohl and Deschenes have tremendously impacted my time here at the College. I can go to them for anything - both school and non-school related. Ten years from now I'll still be talking to both of them. They truly take an interest in their students."

Mackenzie RobyThis spring Mackenzie is headed to San Diego to present her research at the Experimental Biology Conference - fully funded by a grant through the College's HHMI program. "The conference is for all sorts of groups. We're presenting to the American Physiological Society. With the grant, they're flying me out there for free. Everything's taken care of."

Outside the classroom, Mackenzie extended her knowledge of physical therapy through volunteer work at a therapeutic horse-riding center. "At Dreamcatchers they use horses to help rehabilitate people with everything from muscular dystrophy to ADHD."

"The horses' gait is very similar to a human gait," she explained, and patients can make impressive gains in their therapy programs. "At each session we'd begin by getting the kids comfortable with the horse. Once they learned to ride, they'd do various physical exercises, such as dropping plastic donuts onto poles while on horseback, that worked their problem areas without them realizing it. One paralyzed child learned to walk again."

Mackenzie's post-college plans are already in place. "I'm attending the University of Delaware," she said, "for a dual doctorate of physical therapy and another area that I'll choose as I go through the program and discover my particular interests." And before long she'll be a practicing physical therapist.