Although she completed her undergraduate degree less than five years ago, Cassie McDonald Ross ’13 already holds her dream job as a physical therapist at Agility Physical Therapy & Sports Performance. She credits her Olivet College support system, including many female mentors and role models, as the springboard that helped her launch a successful career. Now, Cassie is seizing the opportunity to use her training and tools to become a leader in her field, serve as an advocate for gender equality, and help other women develop their leadership skills.
Cassie’s relationship with OC began when she was in middle school. Her class had the chance to attend a girls’ math and science fair on campus, and Cassie even remembers Provost and Dean Maria Davis, Ph.D., instructing attendees on how to make perfume. Her love for OC or math didn’t fade, and Olivet College was the only school Cassie considered when it was time to make her college selection.
“I was led to both the academics and athletics at Olivet,” Cassie explained. “I was really interested in playing volleyball, and excited to study math with the goal to become a math teacher and help others love it as much as I do. I also knew OC showed a passion for challenging women to become leaders in society from my experience at the math and science fair, and I wanted to continue that.”
Taking on the Challenge to Follow Your Dreams
While Cassie’s great fervor for volleyball never waivered, she suffered injuries that led to three knee surgeries midway through her college career. During Cassie’s three-days a week physical therapy sessions, something unexpected happened. Cassie was disappointed her chance to play volleyball was over, but didn’t dread attending physical therapy the way others might. She actually enjoyed it.
“I loved physical therapy,” Cassie said. “Building relationships with my doctors was amazing, and I really admired how they helped people. I saw that they were teaching, as I wanted to, just in a different way. I don’t have any medical professionals in my family, and my mom actually works in public education and could have guided me through my career, but I decided I wanted more. It was nerve wracking, but I was up for the challenge and decided to pursue a career in physical therapy.”
Hesitant to share the news with her professors and advisers, Cassie was surprised with the support she received. Janine Peters, Cassie’s adviser, associate professor and chair of the Math and Computer Science Department, supported her through the transition from the beginning, helping Cassie learn about requirements for physical therapy programs all the way to academic advising. Professor Peters even helped Cassie see that her math degree could still contribute to her new goals and register for classes that would introduce her to physical therapy.
Women Leaders at OC
Cassie’s support didn’t end there. She had connected with Traci Corey, presidential spouse and Women’s Leadership Institute director, over their mutual love of volleyball, and continued to build relationships with both Traci and President Steven M. Corey, Ph.D. Ultimately, Cassie was invited to take part in the first ever President’s Leadership Institute class, a yearlong training program dedicated to developing top leadership in Olivet’s students, as well as enabling them to become the principal professional and community leaders of the future. It was through this experience she realized others could identify her leadership potential and began to develop her own leadership style.
Cassie also credits head volleyball coach Megan Merchant, associate professor of health and human performance Nancy Van Hoozier, and chair of the Social Science Department and professor of sociology and anthropology Cynthia Noyes for helping shape her college journey. Surrounded by strong female leaders and role models, Cassie developed a deeper understanding of the importance for women to work together when addressing social change issues.
Now, Cassie is excited to transition to the other side of the mentor-mentee relationship and will serve on the Olivet College Alumnae Panel at the Cultivating Women Leaders (CWL) event on March 2.
“The women I had as mentors and role models at Olivet helped light a fire in me as a female leader,” Cassie said excitedly. “It’s never one moment that changes your life, it’s the process of growth that creates strong women, and that’s exactly what I experienced at OC. I strive to better myself through continuous learning, always accepting new challenges, and never being complacent. I look forward to sharing that with others, too.” Cassie added that her role models while she was student showed her that leadership qualities are not just taught, but are exemplified through actions.
Cultivating Women Leaders
Under the theme Pioneering the Future, the second annual CWL event is designed to inspire and equip young women to embrace their inner strength and realize their potential as responsible leaders. Michigan’s finest women business leaders and OC’s most successful alumnae, like Cassie, will present interactive sessions on professional communication skills and network with participants.
Cassie’s number one piece of advice she wants to share with other developing female leaders is that there is a difference between being a leader and being in a leadership role. “I’m a recent graduate and one of the youngest and least experienced doctors in my office, but that doesn’t mean I can’t exemplify leadership qualities. I strive to lead by example, be confident and encourage a collaborative working environment. I always feel my connections at OC are rooting me on in everything I do, and I can’t wait to build on our relationships at CWL,” Cassie explained.
Working in a male dominated field, Cassie says it’s hard not to get bogged down when she feels not enough progress is being made. By giving back in ways like others have helped Cassie, she hopes she can light a fire inside the CWL attendees and help other women, especially high school and young college students, see their own leadership potential.
Attend Cultivating Women Leaders: Pioneering the Future on March 2 to learn more about Cassie. For more information about Olivet College, contact the Office of Admissions at 800.456.7189 or firstname.lastname@example.org.