Tori Heckendorn, a graduate student in Stockton’s Physical Therapy program, uses her PT education to help fundraise and provide health care services in the local community and abroad.
In recognition of her dedication to the well-being of others and her acts of selflessness, Heckendorn was awarded the Distinguished Service Award at Stockton’s 12th Annual MLK Day of Service on Jan. 18, 2016.
Come May 2016, Heckendorn can add three more letters to the end of her name: DPT. Heckendorn will earn a Doctorate of Physical Therapy during Stockton University’s May 12 Doctoral and Master’s Commencement Ceremony. Commencement, however, will just be another step on her physical therapy journey.
“I fell in love with physical therapy after running cross country in high school [when] an injury left me sidelined my senior season,” Heckendorn said. “My physical therapist got me back to my sport in a much shorter timeline than all of my doctors had predicted and I was simply amazed.”
Heckendorn completed her undergraduate degree in Biology with two minors, in Spanish and Holistic Health, at Stockton in 2014. She made the dean’s list for each of her 12 semesters here.
“I chose Stockton because I was accepted into the 3+3 PT program through an early acceptance program in which I was granted a seat in the Class of 2016 DPT program as a senior in high school based on GPA, community involvement/athletics, SATs etc.,” Heckendorn explained. “Of all the universities I applied to, this was the only college that had granted me a seat in the doctoral program while still a high school student. This was such a great opportunity because I never had to apply to graduate schools, take the GRE, etc. It also saved me a year of tuition by completing the coursework in six years instead of the normal seven. Lastly, Stockton offered me a phenomenal undergraduate scholarship which is allowing me to graduate debt free. I feel so grateful since this is not the case for the majority of graduate students across the country. Stockton gave me this amazing opportunity, so I had to take it!”
On campus, she serves as president of the Doctorate of Physical Therapy Club. As president, she helped fundraise for a variety of community organizations, including the Wounded Warrior Project, the FANA Orphanage in Bogota, Colombia and the Philadelphia Magee Eagles quadriplegic rugby team. She also organized events supporting the Atlantic City Rescue Mission and the Health Center at Galloway.
For the past three years, Heckendorn has worked with Stockton’s Unified Sports Special Olympics basketball and soccer leagues. She also works as a personal trainer two nights each week to support Stockton’s Get Fit, a program designed to help adults with physical and cognitive disabilities remain healthy and active.
“These experiences have greatly prepared me to work with special populations once I am a licensed therapist,” Heckendorn said.
She is currently involved with the Graduate Student Council and is a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa leadership honor society. As an undergraduate, she served as president of the Delta Zeta sorority. She is currently working with DPT faculty to plan a one-week camp called, “I Can Shine” in July 2016, where Heckendorn and other volunteers will teach children with Down Syndrome to ride a bike.
Heckendorn acknowledges that campus involvement has been integral to her education and development as a physical therapist.
“Being so highly involved has opened the door to various scholarship opportunities that have allowed me to pay my way through both undergraduate and graduate school,” she said. “I could not be more grateful to these amazing organizations that have helped fund my dreams.”
Heckendorn’s passion for physical therapy is not confined within U.S. borders. She recently returned from trips to Spain and Colombia where she provided volunteer therapy services to those with limited access to health care.
“This experience was incredibly eye-opening. I have found that I can combine my love for PT and traveling by providing pro bono care to those with limited access. I plan to actively continue this type of volunteering in my future,” said Heckendorn, who has been practicing Spanish to expand her communication skills.
Stockton faculty and staff members have played a vital role in Heckendorn’s Stockton experience.
“Mary Lou Galantino (Distinguished Professor of Physical Therapy) has been an excellent adviser for the PT Club,” she said. “Galantino wrote letters of recommendation that have helped me to achieve so much.”
Heckendorn thanks Professor of Physical Therapy Patricia McGinnis, who served as the faculty adviser on the Colombia study tour, for the “life-changing experience.”
“Bob Ross, assistant director of Counseling and Health Services, helped set up Stockton’s Unified Sports programs, which have brought so much to the Stockton campus,” she continued.
Heckendorn, who grew up in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., credits her parents for being her biggest supporters. “They are willing to do anything and everything to help me succeed, including supporting my international travel,” she said.
“I truly made the most of my Stockton experience by being so involved,” Heckendorn said. “In my opinion, you will never regret the opportunities that you take, only the ones that you did not.”