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April 25, 2017
Eric Chen will leave Northwest Missouri State University this spring with two degrees, profession-based experiences in health and wellness, and firsthand experiences related to how the University and its surrounding communities rally during tough times.
Chen, a native of Pleasant Hill, Missouri, chose to attend Northwest over other Missouri schools after touring the University and becoming impressed with the campus environment, classrooms and faculty. The family atmosphere made an immediate impact on him.
“The family atmosphere that this town has really brought me closer and made me really proud that I chose Northwest,” Chen said.
Chen joined the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and established additional friendships through his work at Northwest’s fitness center. He was a member of the Student Activities Council and the Health Science and Wellness Club. Those activities helped mold him into a more confident person, he says.
Since arriving on the Northwest campus as a freshman undergraduate student in the fall of 2011, Chen has seen his share of ups and downs – from watching student-athletes celebrate national championships to the tragic death of a fraternity brother and the loss of his belongings in an apartment fire. Those experiences showed Chen the power of Northwest’s family atmosphere.
In 2012, Chen and members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon suffered the tragic loss of their fraternity brother Tomarken Smith. Chen and Smith worked together at the Northwest fitness center and shared similar interests. In the aftermath, Northwest rallied around the fraternity and paid tribute to Smith.
In March of this year, Chen and his roommates were victims of an apartment fire. Chen was the only person in his apartment that night when he heard crackling in an adjacent room. He discovered the fire and escaped the structure as local emergency vehicles approached. In its aftermath, Northwest made housing arrangements for Chen and his roommates, and local residents, businesses and student organizations offered gift cards, clothing and other necessities.
“The community is great because you can go through your hardest times and someone’s going to reach out their hand to you,” Chen said. “You try to take it day-by-day and let the time heal and go from there. Having professors be understanding is so great, and they want the best for you. I truly appreciate that.”
Chen came to Northwest hoping to lay the foundation for a career in athletics or human performance. He established connections with faculty in the School of Health Science and Wellness who provided academic guidance. And he took advantage of profession-based experiences available through the University’s fitness center and its Department of Athletics, including a job shadowing opportunity with Northwest Strength and Conditioning Coach Joe Quinlin.
“Sometimes he would throw me into the fire to make me learn a little bit more, but that’s how you learn sometimes,” Chen said. “I really appreciate all of the little things I’ve learned here.”
After two years of working in strength and conditioning, Chen veered to personal training and completed his field experience in the Northwest Fitness Center, eventually leading group exercise sessions at the University’s new and expanded Robert and Virginia Foster Fitness Center.
Internships in corporate recreation at the Sprint campus in Overland Park, Kansas, and as a fitness specialist at a youth sports camp last summer in Greeley, Pennsylvania, have further prepared Chen for his career and solidified his interests in the health and wellness field.
This summer he begins his career with Cerner as a fitness specialist, designing fitness programs for Cerner employees.
“Those experiences set me up because I knew how to engage in talking to members, how to make them feel comfortable, how to really get the most out of what they came for when they come in the doors,” Chen said.
Chen said he considers earning his bachelor’s degree in corporate recreation and wellness at Northwest in 2015 his proudest accomplishment to this point. But he’s ready to do it again this spring when he receives his master’s degree in applied health and sport sciences.
“I want to bring the culture that I learned at Northwest into my new work setting,” Chen said. “Then, they’ll see ‘oh yeah, he’s from Northwest. This guy has a good positive attitude. He’s a great worker.’ That’s something that I want to show my employers – that this is the school I came from and this is how we do things.”
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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