ECU graduate student Christina Brown-Bochicchio traveled across the country to join ECU's recreational therapy program, where she is now working on research to help wheelchair athletes improve their sports performance. (Photo by Chuck Baldwin, Health and Human Performance)

SEEKING SUBSTANCE: ECU grad student finds career that fits

By Kathy Muse
College of Health and Human Performance

Christina Brown-Bochicchio left Hollywood – and a career that catered to film and television celebrities – to enroll as a graduate student at East Carolina University.

While she enjoyed planning large events with clients who lived in the limelight, she wanted a bigger impact on people’s lives. “My life was consumed with superficial details,” she said.

Brown-Bochicchio found her path to that goal through ECU’s recreational therapy program, ranked first out of 144 in the nation for producing certified therapeutic recreation specialists. The program is housed in the ECU College of Health and Human Performance.

Discovering her passion

Brown-Bochicchio’s journey began when she left her Hollywood job to serve as project manager for a start-up company manufacturing a magnesium alloy for automobiles. The company’s financial struggle in a weak economy triggered a “light bulb moment” for Brown-Bochicchio. She said she realized that this kind of work was not what she wanted to do.

At the age of 29, she began to search for her ideal career. Remembering an introductory class in recreational therapy at the University of Missouri, Brown-Bochicchio began to research the field. She shadowed a therapist working at a hospital.

“I knew I had found a career that would package my talents, interests and love of helping people,” she said.

From west coast to east

Brown-Bochicchio then began to search for the best recreational therapy master’s degree program and university. She traveled across the country touring universities in California, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.

A Google search led her to ECU.  

“I wanted to attend a university that was connected to a hospital and emphasized the clinical application of recreational therapy,” Brown-Bochicchio said. “And ECU by far had the most recreational therapy faculty.”

After speaking with faculty in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, Brown-Bochicchio said she knew ECU was the best fit for her.

“Our graduate curriculum offers contemporary recreational therapy treatment services,” said Dr. Thom Skalko, professor in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies.  “It is unlike most programs in the country,” he continued.

Helping people enjoy life

These days as part of her thesis work, Brown-Bochicchio works on a test that may help wheelchair athletes improve their sports performance. She uses the SmartWheel device to gather data points such as the length, force and speed used by wheelchair users as they push the chair.

“Recreational Therapy is about helping people with disabilities enjoy their life and rehabilitate to a place where they can enjoy living again,” Brown-Bochicchio said.

Dr. Deb Jordan, chair of the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies in the College of Health and Human Performance, said recreational therapists incorporate a diverse range of activities into health care and rehabilitation, using prescribed activities and experiences to achieve predetermined objectives.

Jordan said recreational services are designed to help patients “change physical, cognitive, emotional or social behaviors to enhance abilities and promote independence.”

“It is the perfect fit for my personality, passion and it just feels right for me,” Brown-Bochicchio said.

Brown-Bochicchio will graduate in the spring of 2012 to a strong job market. The U.S. Department of Labor projects demand for recreational therapists, forecasting a 15 percent increase in the need for therapists from 2008 to 2018.


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