Erin Cannon portrait
Erin Cannon, a spring 2023 graduate of The University of Alabama in Huntsville, plans to work with children who have physical disabilities when she becomes a physical therapist. She is pursuing that dream at Tennessee State University with a full fellowship.
Michael Mercier | UAH

Erin Cannon is on a fast track to becoming a leader in the world of physical therapy (PT). Not only did she get into a PT program – a highly competitive achievement – but it’s paid for 100%.

On May 4, she received her degree in exercise science from The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) College of Education’s kinesiology department. UAH is part of the University of Alabama System. A couple of weeks later, she began her post-graduate work at Tennessee State University (TSU) as a recipient of the Preparing Our Tomorrow Uniquely in STEM (POTUS) Fellowship – estimated annual value, $50,000.

“Coming straight out of undergrad into PT school? It happens very seldom,” Cannon says. “Most of the people in my class are 25 and older. I’m 22. I was very fortunate to be able to get into the field so soon. Not only was I going to PT school, but I was going debt free!”

POTUS aims to increase African American representation in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines. Recipients “serve as research and teaching assistants, produce scholarly works, and engage in professional development opportunities,” according to the TSU website. They are expected “to ensure their place among the leaders of tomorrow.”

At UAH, Cannon established herself as a strong leader while preparing for her PT career. She was a member of the track team for four years, and she served as an ambassador for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Last fall, she devoted more than 200 hours to UAH’s Early Learning Center (ELC).

Her time at the ELC was a labor of love, but it wasn’t easy. She recalls waking up at 6 a.m. for track practice and then arriving at the center at 8 a.m. to work with 2-year-olds.

“I just ran probably five miles, and my body was hurting. There I was with the children, working with them 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Some of them had cerebral palsy or spinal issues. We were helping them retain or strengthen the motor functions they did have because they did have limited motion.”

Cannon’s experience reinforced her awareness that PT is a demanding profession and also confirmed her desire and determination to be a part of it.

“I loved it. I thought, I would love to start my day like this.”

Cannon’s PT dream began in high school when she spent a summer working with young children, some of them with physical disabilities. One lasting impression: watching a physical therapist help a 2-year-old with cerebral palsy learn to run longer without falling down.

That dream solidified at UAH.

“When people were asking me what I wanted to do, I looked back. I want to work with the children. I want to work with the parents. I want to work with their families to get them to grow.”

Dr. Ryan Conners, associate professor of kinesiology at UAH, expects Cannon will flourish at TSU and beyond.

“Erin’s a natural leader. She pushes herself to that next level and helps those around her to be successful. This was evident when she took the lead on her undergraduate research group project, which is part of a two-semester course sequence in exercise science. She did a fantastic job of motivating her group mates and leading by example throughout the entire research process.

“Erin is willing to put in the hard work and dedication to get the outcome she desires. I know she will be a great physical therapist and will help many patients during her career.”