MSU-Meridian students gain career training through internships

Contact:  Lisa Sollie  Dr Stephen Kay of Total Rehab and MSU-Meridian kinesiology student, Anna Katherine Russell, test grip strength on Tim Donaldson of Meridian.

MERIDIAN, Miss.—Anna Kathryn Russell of Lauderdale, a recent graduate of Mississippi State University-Meridian, said first-hand work experiences gained through internships help students know if they are making the right career decision.

While working toward her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, Russell spent at least five hours a day at Total Rehab, an outpatient physical therapy clinic owned and operated since 2016 by licensed physical therapist Stephen Kay.

According to Laura Hilton, MSU-Meridian instructor of kinesiology and clinical lab director, students enrolled in the clinical exercise physiology concentration in the kinesiology program are required to complete a 240-hour internship before they graduate. Russell was one of 11 MSU students this spring doing internships in clinics and hospitals in Mississippi and Alabama.

“Internships are very beneficial because they allow our students a window into the profession or career choice they feel they are interested in,” Hilton said. “It takes them out of the classroom and gives them the opportunity to work with physical or occupational therapists to see if that’s what they want to do with their lives,” she added.

MSU-Meridian began offering a kinesiology degree and the clinical exercise physiology concentration in the fall of 2014. In January 2016, the program moved into its state-of-the-art renovated facility, the Rosenbaum Building located at MSU-Meridian’s Riley Campus downtown.

For Russell, the degree offered just the right career pathway.

A 2010 graduate of Meridian High School, Russell enrolled at Meridian Community College with plans to become a nurse, but soon changed direction and chose to pursue an elementary education degree instead.

After earning her associate’s degree from MCC, she then transferred to MSU-Meridian.

“I was in my third semester at MSU-Meridian and my first as a senior,” recalled Russell, “We were observing different classrooms around the area. After only one observation I quickly realized teaching was not something I wanted to do.”

Russell then took a year off from school and worked full time while she regrouped.

“It was really hard to establish what I wanted to do with my life as an 18-year-old,” she said.  “When I heard that MSU-Meridian was going to offer a kinesiology degree here, things clicked into place and I was in Ms. Hilton’s office the next day to enroll.”

Participating in an internship helped confirm Russell’s career choice.

“My experience at the clinic was great. Stephen and all the staff are super easy to learn from, and they really took the time to explain every movement and process they were doing with each patient,” she said. “Every time they thought something was interesting or a good learning experience, they would call me over to watch what they were doing.”

For Kay, agreeing to host an intern at his clinic was a way to give back.

“You do a lot of internships when you are in physical therapy school, and I feel a huge indebtedness to pass that along in any way I can,” Kay said. “I have had a few interns from the Starkville campus before as well as students in PT school. This is the first time I’ve had a student from MSU-Meridian, but it won’t be the last,” Kay added.

Finding placement for students, however, is not always an easy task.

“An internship requires a lot from the participating facility,” Hilton said. “The supervisor must be willing to take the time and put forth the effort necessary to teach our students what they need to know to get ahead and be successful.

“It’s all about relationship building,” she added. “These partnerships mean a lot to Mississippi State University and to our students. There is only so much they can learn in the classroom.”  

Russell said she hopes to continue her education and plans to attend a physical therapy assistant program.

Hilton makes sure new students to the program understand earning a kinesiology degree is just the beginning.

“A degree in kinesiology and the exercise physiology concentration we offer here at MSU-Meridian provides a starting point from which our students can venture in many different directions,” Hilton explained. “We’ve had students who are interested in pursuing medical or dental school, but the majority are interested in the physical or occupational therapy field.” 

The first group of students graduated from the program one year ago, and Hilton said several graduates have been accepted to graduate programs, as well as occupational therapy assistant and physical therapy assistant programs at area community colleges. Many of this year’s graduates are applying to prospective programs and going through the interview process now.
For more information about MSU-Meridian’s kinesiology program, contact Hilton at

MSU-Meridian serves primarily east central Mississippi and west Alabama. Learn more at

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