Commencement Feature: Lindsey Visscher encourages you to take that first step

Master of Science in Health Promotion graduate Lindsey Visscher may not know exactly what her career will be yet, but she knows she wants to merge psychological and physical health and help people along the way.

Lindsey with a fish she caught

“I was pretty dead set on being a physical therapist when I started college,” Lindsey said. “Then I was applying for PT schools and doing all my observation hours, and I got really interested in the psychology of injury – what’s going on in the mind when someone gets injured and is in rehab? So I started taking more psychology classes and got a certificate in Healthcare and Resilience that was about how we can best care for people in healthcare by approaching it through this holistic lens that a person is a whole person and not just a list of symptoms.”

Lindsey also has a personal investment in encouraging patients to advocate for their health, having been misdiagnosed as Type 2 Diabetic while finishing her undergrad at CU Boulder and struggling through that before getting a second opinion and receiving the proper diagnosis of late-onset type 1 diabetes.

“I think that also fueled my fire for wanting to get into health promotion and education about health,” said Lindsey. “I’m so grateful that I had this knowledge of ‘this doesn’t feel right, I should get that second opinion.’ If I hadn’t listened to that and not done anything else, I truly would have died because my blood sugar would have been so high for so long.”

Though her health struggles proved difficult – managing her blood sugar and undiagnosed diabetes complications while also trying to train for a boxing competition and with family living far away and unable to help, all during COVID – they gave Lindsey the ability to see healthcare from both the professional and patient perspective.

“It’s been motivating – if I can help somebody to have even a little bit more knowledge or have some more motivation to be physically active or to live a healthy lifestyle, that would be super rewarding.”

Lindsey has also been able to incorporate her personal experience into her professional life in more positive ways with boxing and Muay Thai training, both of which she’s done for years.

“It’s been really fun because you learn in health promotion how important physical activity is for everything, but one of the most fun is the mind-body connection,” Lindsey said. “When you’re exercising or being physically active and you’re moving, it translates to your mind, so you can feel better because of those endorphins or those hormone responses, but you might just feel clearer because you’ve moved your body, or because you’ve distracted yourself from whatever was stressing you out for at least an hour. This mind-body connection is something that we talk about a lot in health promotion, so to be able to experience it literally when I go workout or do boxing has been really cool, and to practice what I preach a little bit.”

As she prepares to start the next chapter of her life and pursue her PhD in Social Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity at the University of Northern Colorado, Lindsey is exploring what the future might hold and taking the knowledge from her time at UCCS with her, such as her research experience and thesis topic, the Fitness Buddies program.

Lindsey hiking in Chile with her dad, Jon

“I started my program here as a research assistant for Fitness Buddies, so I worked on that through my whole first year,” explained Lindsey. “We gathered the data, analyzed it and presented it at Mountain Lion Research Day last year, so for my thesis, I decided to pilot that same Fitness Buddies program in a different population. Instead of working with college students, I wanted to see how the program would impact military-connected individuals, so I recruited military veterans, military spouses and active duty soldiers in the community and paired them up to engage in physical activity sessions together for eight weeks. It was really fun and it was very challenging, logistically trying to recruit that many people and pair them up based on schedules and similar interests and keep that communication going, because it’s very easy to sign up for something and then realize you don’t have the time.”

That research consisted of measuring psychological well-being, physical activity with participants wearing Fitbits, motivation to attend the sessions across the eight weeks and how they felt before and after each session, which they measured through the use of emojis. Not only did the program give participants a chance to connect with other military individuals and improve their well-being, it gave Lindsey experience in developing and running the study.

“I learned a lot about programs and how to create a program, implement it, evaluate it, which is the core of health promotion, so I got some really great experience with that,” Lindsey said. “We gathered a lot of data, and overall found that there was no statistical significance. But practically, it really helped these individuals build authentic and genuine connections with each other, they were able to connect and find belonging with their same military identity, but they were also engaging in physical activity, so it was easier for them to talk and communicate.”

“They felt like their well-being improved, like they had more energy, more mental clarity. Everything kind of shifted after the sessions to being more positive, so while they were more stressed or frustrated at the beginning, they were happier and felt more connected after. Then their motivation to come to the sessions actually became more internally regulated, which was great to see. So it started out with ‘I’m coming to this session because I don’t want to let my buddy down’ which is external, and then it moved towards ‘I came to this session because I really enjoy being here’, which is internal.”

Along with those benefits, the participants were able to change up their routine and gain some autonomy, an important side effect.

“One of the biggest things we found was this sense of autonomy,” explained Lindsey. “Everyone was able to choose what they did for their physical activity, and that was really beneficial for a lot of the active duty soldiers because they engage in physical training every day without being able to choose it. They thought that was great and more enjoyable because they were able to choose what they were doing and brought that love of physical activity back into their life, so that was a really cool finding that just speaks to the importance of autonomy for these individuals, especially in physical activity.”

Lindsey became involved in several other activities at UCCS alongside her classes and research, making it a home away from home. She joined the Wellness Center as a graduate assistant and collaborated with many of the other departments on campus such as MOSAIC and the Office of the Dean of Students, the latter of which she’s working on a social media campaign with.

Lindsey and her sister, Hailey, at Hailey’s wedding

“I’ve been able to really give a lot of my time to different areas across UCCS by getting super involved with wellness promotion at the Wellness Center,” said Lindsey. “It’s given me a lot of room to get plugged in and I’ve grown so much as a person and as a scholar, but mostly as a person. I’ve learned a lot about myself and I am so proud of everything I’ve accomplished over these past two years. This campus has provided such a supportive environment where I feel like I’m able to grow and to leave and to do great things outside of it.”

One of Lindsey’s notable projects during her time at the Wellness Center has been the popular Wellness Wednesday Instagram Reel series she’s led with Social Media Specialist Jacob Guilez. The Reels consist of short videos sharing wellness and health tips, such as how to improve both mental and physical health and busting wellness myths.

“We were trying to reach students across campus but not being super productive because we didn’t have social media, so we started our Instagram and in that process I got connected with Jacob and started brainstorming,” recalled Lindsey. “Then we had this idea to do these Wellness Wednesday Reels and make them funny and engaging and give students information about wellness, but try and make them a little bit more consumable and digestible. We thought maybe we should go upstairs and get on the bike in the Rec Center, or we should write on the whiteboard. He was really cheering me on and I was so nervous to be in front of the camera, and we did so many takes and he was so supportive. After that first one, I think we both felt this could be really fun and we started this oscillating schedule of planning and filming. It’s been a really creative way for me to apply what I’ve learned in my role at the Wellness Center.”

Lindsey is now preparing to do her last Wellness Wednesday reel for Commencement about life transitions and reminiscing on the last year, a timely topic for her send-off.

“These transitions happen and they can bring a lot of anxiety and stress of what’s next, but they can also bring a lot of excitement and opportunity to try new things or to take that next step. That’s what the video is going to be about and I think it’s going to be a great way to celebrate everything,” said Lindsey.

It’ll be a bittersweet moment for Lindsey as she says goodbye to UCCS and her time at the Wellness Center, which has been so impactful during her graduate years.

“Everyone at the Wellness Center has made a huge impact on my time here. Stephanie and Chrissie, they are the best. They’ve grown my professional development, and they’ve given me opportunities to teach and educate and promote and be on social media and get plugged in everywhere. Plus the health sciences team, the health promotion team and all the faculty that has taught me during my time here. Jess Kirby, Joey Lee, Brynn Adamson, Paige Whitney, all of them have been super supportive and helpful.”

Among many memories at UCCS, one of Lindsey’s favorite is when she traveled to Portland with her current advisor, Jess Kirby, and future PhD advisor, Megan Babkes-Stellino, to present their Fitness Buddies research.

Lindsey with her fiancé, Gino, in Chicago

“It was an awesome professional development moment, but it was also so fun to travel with the two of them and see how they operate on a day-to-day basis. Being around two strong female role models for a few days was definitely motivating,” Lindsey said.

Though she keeps busy with classes and research, Lindsey also spends much of her time staying active with hikes, boxing and yoga, and cooking or spending time with her fiancé, Gino, who works for an IT health company heading the Virtual Reality training department.

“Both of us are growing and trying to figure out how to achieve our goals, but my fiancé, he’s been the biggest support system. He’s probably the biggest reason why I made it through my thesis.”

As she transitions to her PhD and exploring career options, Lindsey is keeping her mind open to several possibilities.

“Professionally, my pie in the sky dream would be to bridge everything I’ve learned with health promotion and the mind-body connection and psychology with physical therapy. I’m still really interested in injury and rehabilitation, but I’d like to bring in some of those psychological aspects. I’d love to be some sort of health educator or health promoter that consults with people to help them understand the psychology of injury, and to either have my own practice where that occurs, or be a consultant that can work in those spaces. And personally, I want to have a family someday.”

She also reminds students not to feel locked in to a decision or life path, and that it’s okay to not figure everything out right away.

“You don’t have to know what you want to do,” Lindsey emphasized. “Recognize that you can always change, you can always shift, you’ll always find different opportunities. When you have your own moral compass and you know which direction to go in, that’s what really makes it the easiest to take those steps. Doing that internal work and knowing who you are at your core and what’s important is the best foundation to the right direction.”

“You don’t have to see the top of the staircase, just take the first step.”

About the UCCS College of Nursing and Health Sciences

The Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences provides both traditional and accelerated undergraduate nursing, graduate nursing and health sciences degrees. Established in 1904, the college offers state-of-the-art facilities, including the Johnson Beth-El Clinics at the Lane Center, sports medicine programs through the William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center and advanced clinical rotation supplementation through the Simulation Learning Center. Learn more about the Johnson Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences at UCCS.