CSUN alumni honored with Volunteer Service Awards

Britten Fay

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James Syms was given the 2010 Volunteer Service Award for developing a physical therapy doctorate degree program at CSUN. Photo Credit: courtesy of cheryl mcmillian, coordinator of alumni administration

The CSUN Alumni Association honored community members in November who have made profound contributions to the campus with the 2010 Volunteer Service Awards.

Two honorees were Drs. James Syms and Sheryl Low for their efforts in developing a physical therapy doctorate degree program at CSUN.  It was through their hard work and perseverance that Assembly Bill 2382 was passed and signed into law by Gov. Schwarzenegger, allowing the physical therapy program at CSUN to move from a masters to a doctoral degree.

“In 2015, the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education will only accredit graduating students who exit the program with a doctorate degree, not masters as they do now.  So we had to rescue it at the state school level,” said Syms, president of the California Physical Therapy Association (CPTA) and assistant professor of physical therapy at Loma Linda University School of Allied Health.

This meant that by then, students who could perhaps only afford to pass through the CSU system with a master’s degree would fall short of their professional aspirations.

“With four years of undergrad and three years of physical therapy school, it would cost somewhere between $80,000 to $112,000,” Syms said.  “Kids in the lower economic strata whose parents couldn’t send them to a private school would not be able to become physical therapists.”

The CPTA got in touch with 40th District Assembly Member Bob Blumenfield to discuss how to fund the bill.  Syms said Low, chair of the CSUN physical therapy department, was the content expert who described to the legislature through numerous meetings what the change would cost CSUN and how the school might pay for it.

Syms said they were chiefly concerned with where the money would come from and insisted that it remain budget neutral, meaning it would not cost the state any extra money and that no other public projects would suffer for it.  Though that does translate to increased student fees within the physical therapy program at state schools, the alternative was not acceptable.

Syms and Low said they felt they were able to convince the legislature through a workforce shortage angle.  Without a shift to a doctorate program from all the CSU schools, Syms said California’s aging population could suffer a 30 percent loss in work force able to care for them.

The annual Volunteer Service Awards program gave various other campus volunteer groups and colleges a chance to honor those alumni who give back to CSUN to improve the lives and experience of the students and community.

“This year, we honored 33 people, including the two big ones,” said Cheryl McMillan, coordinator of alumni administration for CSUN.

The Dean Ed Peckham Award is one of those big ones and went to Professor Emeritus Donald Cameron.  A faculty member for 39 years, Cameron has remained active with CSUN since his retirement by his involvement with the CSUN Emeritus and Retired Faculty Association.

Cameron’s chief job is helping retired faculty if they have problems with their medical insurance and keeping track of legislation in Sacramento that might affect them.

“There are always concerns about the financial problems the state is in and one of the issues always is the high cost of retirement benefits of state employees,” Cameron said.  “We’ve had to keep track of what’s happening on that front.”

California’s miserable fiscal circumstance keeps him on his toes but despite widespread frustration with public employee benefits, it would take a ballot initiative to affect them.

“We don’t think it’s an immediate threat, but there is concern about the high cost of benefits for all public employees,” he said.