If a hobby is what gives one their greatest sense of joy, Carol Plisner’s is making a difference in her students’ lives. She is a professor/faculty coordinator in Macomb’s Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) program and continues to work with patients for a community health organization, ensuring that her classroom instruction is infused with real-life versus textbook scenarios.
“I’ll come into class after working over the weekend and ask, ‘Who can help me with this case?’” says Plisner. “Some students come up with really great ideas. It makes teaching easier.”
Clinical experience, Plisner believes, is what sets Macomb’s PTA faculty apart from those at other colleges and universities. All were practicing physical therapists before they became instructors or professors, with most still working in the field.
“We are one of the only schools that can say that,” says Plisner.
Plisner grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey, a suburb of New York City. But “vibrant” Boston is where she was drawn after graduating from high school. It offered the promise of tens of thousands of likeminded college students attending one of the city’s 50+ colleges and universities, the most in any U.S. urban area. Plisner decided quickly upon Boston College, but choosing a major took a little more time.
“No one guided me, and women were still being encouraged to go into what they called the ‘helping professions,’” relates Plisner. “I didn’t want to be a nurse or (at the time) a teacher, but physical therapy appealed to me, even though I had no idea what to expect.”
She earned her bachelor’s degree and began working immediately at a large medical center in the New York area, discovering she had found a profession that meshed with her values and interests.
“I learned early on about the struggles of the elderly and the disadvantaged,” says Plisner, who went on to earn a master’s degree in adult education from Central Michigan University. “Community health has been a passion of mine ever since.”
Plisner and her husband, Bruce, retired military who now manages a medical practice, were brought to Michigan in 1983 by his work. The couple’s children, Amanda and Evan, are University of Michigan graduates with careers in Los Angeles. Amanda is an attorney with the California Department of Justice and Evan is associated with a private equity firm.
Taking just a year off when her oldest child was born, Plisner has continued to work in community health for more than 25 years. But because of her colleagues, her students and the “high bar” the college sets for its programs, Plisner considers her faculty position at Macomb to be “the best job in America.”
“In (career and technical education), we have tangible evidence of the difference we make in the lives of our students. There are a number of them who never had anyone believe in them. When they get that degree and pass that exam, you have given them a sense of independence,” relates Plisner. “I have a former student of mine, a single mom, who was hired as a PTA after graduating. She called to thank me recently because she could finally afford to get her 12-year-old braces.”