Sandra Cassady went to college to be a physical therapist. But when she reflects on her career as a practitioner, teacher, and university administrator, she appreciates how her time spent as a Hawkeye prepared her for a wealth of additional opportunities she couldn’t have anticipated.
“One of the benefits of being a graduate student at the University of Iowa was that, even in my earliest preparation in physical therapy, there was an emphasis on problem solving and critical thinking,” says Cassady, who earned a certificate in physical therapy in 1986, a master’s degree in physical therapy in 1988, and a PhD in exercise science in 1992. “That emphasis has helped me in all of my positions.”
She credits the UI faculty, including her mentor, David Nielsen, PhD, with helping to set her up for success.
“He really understood all the different roles his graduate students would be asked to serve in their careers as faculty members,” she says.
Today Cassady embraces numerous roles at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. She joined the faculty in 1994, and over the years she has pursued new challenges with enthusiasm. Currently, she serves as vice president for strategic initiatives, developing new academic programs university-wide that empower students over the long term, in the same way Nielsen empowered her.
“St. Ambrose is on the leading edge of inter-professional education,” she says. “Rather than the siloed approach, we’re preparing individuals from different departments to go out and practice in teams.”
Cassady also serves as dean of the College of Health and Human Services. Under her leadership, enrollment has jumped from 650 to 1,400, while health care programs have been expanded, preparing more students to serve as providers throughout southeast Iowa and western Illinois.
Her enthusiasm for this kind of institutional effectiveness can also be traced back to her days at the UI, when Nielsen encouraged her to get involved in accreditation.
“He knew the importance of peer review, visiting other colleges, gaining insights, and helping them advance,” says Cassady, who has served since 2003 as a peer reviewer with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of College and Schools.
And she continues in the role that brought her to St. Ambrose in the first place—teaching.
“I’m still in the classroom,” Cassady says. “I love teaching. It’s a great reminder of what’s important in the things that we do as administrators.”