Alumnus Dominic Whitener on Using His Passion for Exercise Science to Help Others

Dom is working on cast mold in the lab.

Dominic Whitener, a 2022 graduate of Rowan’s Exercise Science program, speaks with us about the versatility of the major, working alongside faculty, his internship experience, and how he hopes to impact the field.

Can you explain what Exercise Sciences is?

Exercise Science is essentially looking at exercise from a more quantitative and qualitative background. So it’s more taking apart the exercise, looking at what happens in the body physiologically, anatomically, and really breaking down all of that to really get the most efficient form of exercise and apply it to all sorts of different populations, and regular populations as well — getting people to exercise, promoting movement.

How did you decide on the major?

I decided to study it because I got actually got injured in high school running cross country and track. I suffered stress fractures in my shins. I had a couple good PT’s [physical therapists] when I went in, and it was a sports clinic, so I was like, this is awesome. I like working with athletes, and I like to help people. So I figure it’s a good area for me to go into.

Dominic poses for a photo with his arms crossed.

Can you talk a little bit about the different areas of Exercise Science and the different paths that students can gravitate towards while taking the program?

Yeah, there’s a lot of different routes you can go. I thought the most common field would be a personal trainer, or some sort of strength conditioning coach. However, when I got into it, I realized that there’s so many more opportunities. You can go into exercise physiology, being a professor as well, or being a researcher, you can work for sports teams, you can go in athletic training and go into nursing.

It really opens up a lot of doors as a bachelor’s degree to move up into various different fields.

How did you decide the route that you wanted to take?

I was originally going for physical therapy, that was the goal. However, the more I looked into the programs, and just everything in general, I realized that there’s more to exercise science than just those fields.

I actually did some digging, and I found prosthetics orthotics. I figured it was a cool field. It’s very small, and it’s growing, it’s not very known. So I figured it’s a great opportunity to get into a new field, put my mark into it, and hopefully change it for the better.

Dominic uses a screwdriver on a prosthetic.

Can you talk about the professor you worked alongside, Scott Dankel, and how he helped you grow throughout your your education at Rowan?

Dr. Dankel is a great guy. He loves the students, and he’s always open to take on new students. I heard he was doing research so I walked up with a couple other students and asked, “Can we do it?” And he was like, “Yeah, sure. You can come on.”

He studies mainly muscular endurance and different variables related to muscle, as well as restricted blood flow. He is a great professor, a mentor to me. He pushed me to grow. He would meet with me multiple times to help me as well as the other students that we did research with. He made sure that we were thinking. He got us involved as much as we could be, and overall, just great a professor. Always there for us.

Let’s pivot towards the internship here at MedEast. What is MedEast?

MedEast has a ton of names — MedEast Post-Op & Surgical is the official name or MedEast Bionics. They are a prosthetic orthotic company where they provide custom and off-the-shelf orthotic devices for anywhere from the cranial helmets for mainly children, all the way down to upper body prosthetics and lower limb prosthetics.

What is it about prosthetics that interests you?

It’s really just a cool field. I like the the aspect of combining hands-on projects as well as the healthcare and clinical aspect of it. I think it’s a really unique field. And it’s only expected to grow as technology advances. And it’s fun to do.

Every case is different. So it allows some freshness in the field. And the people are great. So far what I’ve experienced is everyone has a unique story. The patients, they’re inspiring. The perseverance that they go through and to be able to help them, it has a special meaning.

Dominic works with a colleague on a patient.

Looking at some of the workshops back there, it kind of looks like it would be part of an engineering field. Can you talk a little bit about how somebody in exercise science and prosthetics complements the engineering aspects?

So it’s definitely very engineering based, but it is very clinical and medically based as well. The engineering side is the designing and fabricating the actual prostheses and orthosis. However, [when] working with the patient, the patient interaction and the amount of anatomical knowledge you need developing the prostheses [is] very much combined together from what I’ve come [to find]. Also working here, we’ve been to multiple physical therapy clinics as well. So there is a close correlation where the prosthetist or the orthotist works alongside the physical therapist to brainstorm and to try and correct issues — biomechanical issues with the patient — so there is a lot of that knowledge that is needed as well.

And also coming from exercise science, you have that background already, at least some of it with the physical therapist, so you guys can essentially work together to, you know, fix the patient.

Talk to us about the importance of what it is that you did here and what what prosthetics in general do for somebody that needs one.

It’s essential for an amputee to live with — they need a prosthetic, they need a some sort of device to help them get their lives back. So it is definitely important. And there’s more and more cases of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases causing amputation, such as diabetes, and dysvascular as well. So it’s definitely important to have them as more amputees are going to start coming up in society.

And the opportunity that MedEast gave me here was, they really just kind of threw me into it. And they’re like, here you go, have fun. Let’s see what you can do. And they’ve been nothing but great. Definitely a great spot here.

Dominic poses in front of a MedEast sign, where he interns.

So everything here that you talked about, from the designing, to the building, to the fitting, you did that during your internship?

I did as much as I could. I did fabricate independently. I was able to actually work with the patients creating direct sockets, which is making the socket directly on the individual. I did get to help along with that.

The one resident that’s here helping us, Mitch. You’ve worked with him a lot?


Can you talk a little bit about him and how he helped you build up your skills?

Yeah, me and Mitch have a great connection. So he graduated, I believe, a couple years ago from University of Pittsburgh’s prosthetic orthotics program during COVID. So he didn’t get to learn, maybe, let’s say as much as he wanted to, because a lot of it was online during the midst of the pandemic, as the same could be said for me. So coming here, it was great to connect with him and sort of learn stuff together. It was great to kind of bounce ideas back off of each other when we didn’t have an actual clinician with us.

Dominic works with a colleague.

What’s a typical day at MedEast like for you?

Here at MedEast, like I said, they kind of threw me into everything. I would come here in the morning, I would typically meet with either the resident Mitch or the prosthetic director or some other clinicians and they were kind of telling me what they have on the plate for today, where I would be traveling with them, because this job is a lot of traveling. Amputees, you know, if they’re a bilateral amputee, it’s hard for them to travel. So we would have to go to their homes and that’s what it was.

Another reason I like it is I got to travel to physical therapy, clinics, hospitals, assisted living facilities, and patients’ homes, so I really was traveling all over with the clinicians and actually fabricating and doing stuff inside of their homes or the health facility.

So that’s kind of how the day would go — we would travel on the road, we would do stuff like that. Or just consult with a patient [and] come back. It would also be a lot of fabrication as well, where we will be in the back doing a lot of plaster work, or also, we’ve kind of started doing scanning and 3D printing as well. So that’s kind of what a day was like.

What’s your biggest takeaway from your internship here?

So the internship experience in general, it is what you make of it. You can sit there with nothing to do and just kind of wait for your supervisor to give you stuff to do or you can take the initiative, ask questions, learn as much as you can.

That’s really my takeaway from it, be motivated and really enjoy what you’re doing.

Dominick works with a colleague, measuring a preliminary prosthetic.

Why did you choose Rowan?

I chose Rowan a lot for financial reasons. Living in New Jersey relatively close, only 30 minutes away, it allowed me to commute and come here or come to town, you know, fairly cheap. And it’s also just overall, from what I’ve experienced, a good school. It has its fun nightlife, but [it’s] also a very good academic school. And it’s the fourth largest research school growing in the nation. And it’s growing every year. It’s expanding.

The faculty are great. They really care about you. Me being in exercise science, it wasn’t the biggest program compared to, like, the school of business or engineering, so it was a very tight-knit community. And you did get a lot of one on one with the professors. The professors really do care about you and want you to succeed — especially the program director, Dr. Biren. He really does treat all of his students as his own children. He really wants you to succeed and cares about you.

Dominic sands a prosthetic with a machine.

During your college career you had a lot of opportunities, such as the internship that you had here. How important is it for students to have those opportunities available to them to get hands-on experience outside of the classroom, build their skill set, and help them decide which path they want to take?

I think it’s incredibly important, and I’m really happy Rowan offers a lot of extracurricular programs and different opportunities to really figure out what you can do to grow.

I joined multiple clubs [including] Exercise Is Medicine. Also, there was a research program as well as summer undergraduate research program, which allowed me to actually get paid as an intern to do research for the school, and get my name published out there, as well as present a study which is great for a resume that gives you research experience. It gives you the opportunity to work with special populations like Get Fit, where we were fitness trainers for developmental and intellectually disabled individuals. Also the senior internship, it’s now 200 hours — I went through when it was 400 hours — you could pick any internship you want, really, as long as it was related to healthcare. I followed a prosthetic orthotic clinic as well as a physical therapy clinic.

So Rowan really likes to work with the students and basically give the students the power to choose what they want to do and figure out everything.

Dominic draws on a foot in preparation for fitting a prosthetic.

What impact do you hope to have in this field?

So being [in] exercise science, coming into a field which is vastly a lot of engineers, I feel like I have a unique background that could be good for the field, as prosthetists and orthotists essentially just make the prostheses and orthosis. I feel like coming from an exercise background, you recognize the need for fitness within the amputee community and in the special population community. It really is essential for their movement. So coming into this field, I hope to also work with patients to, as a fitness trainer, really guide them in their journey and look at them as an individual versus just a leg that need[s] a custom orthotic. So that’s kind of how I want to grow the industry and really make a difference in terms of advocating for the need for exercise.

Do you have any advice for people looking into exercise science who aren’t sure if its for them?

If someone’s unsure is coming into the exercise science program, I would just ask yourself if you enjoy exercise, enjoy fitness, and you enjoy that environment. And you know, you wouldn’t be opposed to doing something maybe a little bit more clinical, then I would definitely at least look into exercise science. You can do so much with it and I definitely think it’s a good route for people to take. It opens up so many doors.

See our video with Dominic here:

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Story by:
Joseph Conte, junior community and environmental planning major

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