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October 30, 2003 Print this page

La Salle University Doctoral Student Mary Brownsberger
Found a Purpose in Helping Others after a Family Tragedy

It’s how you respond to setbacks that helps you find out what direction you’ll take in life.

This was the case for Mary Brownsberger, a Doylestown resident who is pursing a doctoral degree in psychology at La Salle University.

Her stepson was in a car accident that left him disabled. But out of that tragedy came a positive: “It opened the door to what I really wanted to do with my life,” she says. Her goal is to be actively involved in the empowering of those with disabilities.

Brownsberger recently received the Bob Eigenbrode Memorial Award, given by the Pennsylvania Psychological Association to a graduate psychology student. Among the criteria for the award are “potential for service to the field and involvement in activities.”

“Even though she is being educated to be a professional psychologist, her desire to reach out to those in true need really sets her apart,” says Dr. Frank Gardner, Director of La Salle’s Psy.D. Program, who encouraged Brownsberger to apply for the award.

The Doctoral Program at La Salle is incredibly challenging, yet Brownsberger maintains a 3.98 grade point average. Gardner says, “She works really hard and is involved in so many things. She’s a true picture of compassion, motivation, and energy.”

She is also a member of two honor societies, has been elected as student representative to speak for her fellow doctoral students, and is a member of the student affiliates of American psychology.

Brownsberger is concentrating her degree in rehabilitation and neuropsychology. She chose La Salle for her doctoral studies because it offered a good combination of theory and clinical practice she was seeking. She also teaches an Introduction to Psychology class at the University.

When asked how she likes teaching, Brownsberger pauses for a moment, then sighs and says a heartfelt, “I love it! I just hope to inspire those who are following in the same direction I once was.”

One of Brownsberger’s many volunteer activities is with Special Equestrians, a therapeutic riding facility in Warrington, Pa.. The program uses horses to facilitate therapeutic activity for people with disabilities.

Brownsberg says, “What I enjoy the most is being at the barn and interacting with the instructors, students and horses. The students have diverse disabilities. I've worked with children with autism, adults who are blind and/or deaf, teens with cerebral palsy, and adults who are brain injury survivors.”

“In 30 minutes, a person’s not just physical, but also emotional state can become totally transformed,” she says, “The students are amazing. I've seen some who were really acting out before their lesson started, even self-harming. But most of the time, as soon as they're on the horse, a transformation occurs. Their attention shifts, and they're able to have a good, productive lesson. Most don't want the lesson to end after 30 minutes!”

Volunteering at the barn is just one of the many activities to which Brownsberger dedicates her time, energy, and heart. She adds, “It can be physically exhausting work, but so fulfilling for me!”

A typical day for Brownsberger is filled with teaching, attending her practicum in the rehabilitation unit of Doylestown hospital, and her classes afterwards. Her schedule is also filled with homework and taking care of her home and family.

“Even when times are tight and the pressure is up, she has the ability to take that pressure and turn it into something positive,” says Dr. Gardner. “She really is quite remarkable.”

With all of these experiences and activities under her belt, Brownsberger doesn’t show any signs of stopping. She hopes to teach people interested in rehabilitation careers. And she plans to keep following her goal: “To empower the disabled and their families to be as healthy and self-sufficient as possible.”

--- KATIE WHALEN