By Nate Cairney, NAU Marketing
As a student at Northern Arizona University, Ali Carter has shown a remarkable commitment to service. She trains seeing-eye dogs for the blind and, as a member of the NAU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, helped mentor local school children. Ali is also one of the most highly decorated female golfers in university history. She was named the Golden Eagle Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2009 – which is the highest honor the athletic department can bestow, and earned the prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a select group of student-athletes. She is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree at NAU.
The yellow Labrador Retriever sits obediently on the floor, resting beneath the feet of one of the most decorated female golfers in Northern Arizona University history. The dog’s name is Crispin, and she is in training as a guide dog for the blind. Her trainer is Ali Carter, a graduate student in physical therapy and recent recipient of the prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship, which is awarded to a select group of student-athletes around the country. Crispin, of course, does not care that her trainer carried a 3.99 GPA, or that Ali led the Lumberjacks to their first Big Sky female golf title in a half-decade. For those whom Crispin may one day help, however, Ali’s efforts will be greatly appreciated.
"I raised two guide dogs for the blind in high school, for an organization in California called ‘Guide Dogs for the Blind,’" Ali says. "I got (Crispin) over Thanksgiving, and will have her for a year. I teach her basic commands, socialize her, help raise her for the first year, and then I send her back for more thorough training – and then she’ll hopefully guide a blind person for a number of years."
During her undergraduate career, Ali was also active in establishing service links between the university and the Flagstaff community. As a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, for instance, she served as a mentor in the "Student Athlete for a Day" program, in which local elementary-school children earn opportunities to spend the day with an NAU student-athlete.
"Students who participate in the (Student Athlete for a Day) program get to go to class, see the Skydome, see the campus and kind of get a feel for what the life of an athlete is like," says Ali. "Most of the kids like it, and the ones that like sports love it."
As she has advanced to graduate school, Ali has not relinquished her connection with NAU Athletics, nor has she given up role as a mentor. In fact, she incorporates both aspects into her current work as an academic graduate assistant in athletics.
"I meet weekly with 15 student-athletes to mentor them," she says. "We talk about their classes, their sport, adjusting to college and anything else they might want to talk about. The meetings help ensure the student-athletes are staying on top of all their responsibilities and that any problems or questions that come up are handled quickly."
Ali is also hard at work learning about physical therapy in one of the more competitive PT programs in the country: last year, there were over 500 applicants for 48 spots. As a first-year student, her work is limited primarily to observing in a clinical environment. However, as Ali moves forward in the program, she will gain more hands-on experience at both the university and at outside clinics.
"Right now, I go to the clinic and observe work begin done in different specialty areas – if it’s a neurology class, for instance, then we will observe in a neurology environment," she says. "Then over the summer we have a five-week clerkship, and will work with a clinical instructor at a different clinic to learn as much as we can."
As she looks to the future, Ali plans to merge her service ideals with the professional training she is receiving. "The physical therapy department here is unbelievable, and I have some really good professors," she says. "I think it is really exciting to be learning things that I can apply to my career as a physical therapist. I can’t wait to be able to help people even more."