He’s headed for a career in motion

John Hawkins Jr.
BS Health Sciences, Kinesiology
Hometown: Racine, Wis.
It’s a Fact: He’s into world history when he’s not reading books on cycling and triathlon training.

Last semester, John Hawkins experienced a personal connection with his education in kinesiology. As he held his infant daughter upright, the first-time father observed how she worked to get control of her body.

“I was taking a motor development course then,” he remembers. “From that, I learned some ways to ‘trick’ my baby into doing things. For example, I took a toy and put it down by her feet to see how she moved and balanced her body in order to get to it. It gave me a unique outlook on what I was learning.”

Hawkins has been accepted into a UWM doctoral program in physical therapy. It is the perfect profession for a man who prefers a life in motion.

It will be intense, he says, but he likes it that way. In fact, he’s interested in rehabilitation for people who have suffered traumatic brain injury, or for patients recovering from stroke or organ donation.

The former guitar frontman for a heavy-metal band, Hawkins contemplated training as a motorcycle technician when touring with the band ended. But that required a move to Arizona, where Harley-Davidson operates the program. Hawkins had just met a wonderful woman so he stayed in the area, they married and he enrolled at Gateway Technical College to study nursing.

“I have to have something going on,” he says about choosing a career six years after high school. “I noticed things were getting stagnant and I felt like I needed to move forward.”

It wasn’t long, though, before he took his wife’s suggestion and looked into UWM. Not 100 percent sold on nursing, he took stock of what he was reading in his spare time. “Before I started college, I had a collection of books on topics that interested me,” he says, “and most of the books had to do with body movement.”

He followed his interest, switching to kinesiology–and UWM.

The College of Health Sciences faculty, in particular, impressed Hawkins. On the recommendation of two professors, Ann Swartz and Scott Strath, he applied to the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) and spent the summer before fall semester doing some reading to prepare for work with Strath.

In the Physical Activity & Health Research laboratory, he monitored the energy consumed by volunteers as they performed tasks like folding laundry or doing dishes. Hawkins also took measurements designed to gauge the energy used during the transition time from one task to another. “The question is: ‘How many calories are used during the times you’re not working at a steady pace, but still moving about?’” he explains.

The experience gave him the chance to learn and to operate equipment that professionals use in the field, as well as physically apply the knowledge in a health-related setting.

Now energized to start his graduate studies, Hawkins says, in addition to a career as a professional physical therapist, he would also consider the option of teaching in academia. That option was inspired by faculty he met while getting his bachelor’s degree. “I’m sure it’s hard,” he says, “but they make it look easy.”