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Living her learning

Julia Koppernaes (’19): changing lives, strengthening the community

October 1, 2018

“It was a gut feeling.” As Julia Koppernaes (’19) describes what prompted her to leave her Ottawa home and enroll in Acadia’s Kinesiology program, what’s clear is that she knows how to back up intuition with research. The self-described shy, reserved high school student spoke to several people before making her decision to come here.

“The way people’s faces lit up when they talked about their times at Acadia gave me a strong sense that Acadia was not your average school,” she says. “I would talk with people who went to schools that are regarded as very prestigious, and they would talk about their amazing work there, but their faces rarely lit up the same way. It wasn’t until I got to Acadia and started getting involved with the communities that it dawned on me how good a decision I’d made.”

She quickly broadened her social group and became part of Acadia’s close-knit community. Last year she was a Residence Assistant and coordinator of the Axe Yearbook. She was also involved with the Cardiac Rehab program, the Acadia Strength and Conditioning program, and Meal Assistance at the Wolfville Nursing Home.

“I love Ottawa, but coming here it’s a very different environment. People are there to support you and to help you, and they really want you to succeed,” she says. “The faculty here know your name, and they even know your interests.”

Changing people’s lives

Koppernaes was always interested in how the human body adapts and changes, and how, with the right expertise, we can help the body improve and recover from illness or injury. “We can change people’s lives just by better understanding how the body functions,” she says.

During her first two years at Acadia, the instructors introduced a great deal of new information. By third year, they were challenging students to explore and research problems that did not have easy answers. “I think those challenges have really helped me to grow in my ability to apply my knowledge and to not just be a sponge, absorbing everything, but also a paintbrush to be able to paint how things can be in the future,” she says. “I’ve loved working with all my peers, and we are, I believe, really able to make a difference because of our experience here at Acadia.”

I have been well equipped with the skills required to go on and make positive changes in the world.”

Kinesiology students apply their classroom learning in 15 different community programs including Cardiac Rehab, S.M.I.L.E. and Active Aging. “I’ve been involved in all three of these over my three years, and they’re very different,” she says. “They’re very broad spectrum of life and how to help different people in different stages of life. It’s not just a grade on your paper; it’s actual verbal or physical feedback that people are sharing with you, and they’re sharing their lives with you.”

In one course, students worked with individual community members in the activity lab. “That was the first time I’d really had my own clients,” she says. “I had two elderly gentlemen who had very little experience with physical activity, very little understanding of exercise and how it can benefit them. So I was not only teaching them how to do these exercises but also why they’re doing them. It was amazing to see their progress firsthand and to have helped them to overcome barriers.”

Shaping the future

This summer, Koppernaes worked as part of a research team with the goal of helping communities incorporate physical activity into health care and treatment. The research work gave her a new perspective on her degree. “I’m not just a person sitting in a classroom; I’m not just a person who’s helping clients,” she says. “I’m now also this person who is helping to shape what kind of practices will be used in the future.”

With the long-term goal of serving with the Canadian military as a medical officer, Julia Koppernaes has her eye on med school.

“Though I have no idea how the future will unfold,” she says, “I feel that I have been well equipped with the skills required to go on and make positive changes in the world.”

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