JSBea5aDr. Jenna Sawdon-Bea, associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, beams with enthusiasm as she discusses her new role as chair of the department, which houses one of three doctoral programs on campus.

Always the optimist, Sawdon-Bea, says this new venture is an exciting one. She joined the faculty at Fresno State in 2008, and since then, has taught in the area of musculoskeletal and orthopedic disfunctions for second- and third-year students in the program.

Sawdon-Bea’s passion lies in ensuring the next generation of physical therapists are equipped with the best possible techniques to serve the Central Valley community.

“As an alumna, with both a master’s and a bachelor’s degree in Physical Therapy from Fresno State, my level of passion is even higher,” Sawdon-Bea said. “This program served me so well and now it’s my chance to help the next generation of students get their doctorate degrees.”

To learn more about Sawdon-Bea and her new role as chair, keep reading below!



What does becoming the chair of the physical therapy department mean to you? 

I have the chance to get our faculty, staff and students to believe in themselves and to set them up to succeed. I mean, I’ll be their PR agents – I will brag about their accomplishments, showcase positive things, and celebrate their successes in order to create an environment of positivity. I want them to feel good about themselves. If they feel like they are well-respected and believed in, their production level increases and they are happier doing what they are doing, especially with students. 

When you became chair, what was the first thing you did? 

Well, I just started two months ago, so not much! [laughs] My biggest focus is providing and demonstrating a culture of positivity, success, and upbeat attitudes within our program.

Where does your passion for the physical therapy profession stem from?

I had my first knee surgery at 15. I was actually considering going to medical school because I always knew I wanted to go into healthcare. I was referred to physical therapy as an option and found out how fun it was. You get to spend 30 minutes to an hour helping someone recover from an injury. Physical therapy is so much more than a sports injury. You can be helping someone recover from a stroke, heart surgery, or even assist women who’ve experienced difficult labors.

The Physical Therapy and Intercollegiate Athletics building officially opened in fall 2015. Are there any neat features to the building others may not know about? 

There is a room that faces the pools and diving boards. Sometimes, when the physical therapy students are bored, they watch and rate the divers from the window!

How would you describe the physical therapy profession, especially as it pertains to Fresno State? 

We are considered movement experts – looking at both muscular, skeletal and neurological problems with a focus on prevention of future impairments. We are direct access practitioners, meaning if someone hurts their neck, they don’t have to go see their doctor and instead, can visit any CSU and see a physical therapist as the first line of healthcare. You are always learning something new. 

Who has been your biggest inspiration in your line of work?

My inspirations would have to be my students. This is my 11th year teaching at Fresno State and every new class of students we receive teaches me something every day, like adapting my delivery style so that I can meet their needs. But they truly are my motivation, and I aspire to make them into the best possible physical therapists  they can be….and to get them to really see that in themselves. 

When you’re away from campus, what do you enjoy doing? 

Well, the joke is when I leave here, I put my “mom hat” on. I have three daughters, all in three different schools, so there’s always different interests and activities going on. It’s a juggling act, but they absolutely complete my husband and me.  

You’ve spoken openly about your breast cancer diagnosis from 2012 and how you continued to teach while undergoing chemotherapy. How has your cancer journey impacted or played a role in your career today? 

Nothing phases me now. People ask “What gets you down?” and really, nothing gets me down. After you beat something like cancer, it changes your whole perspective on life. The funny thing is, during all the chemotherapy and surgeries, I never took a leave from work. I needed my students because they were my best supporters and honestly, the best medicine.

What is the best thing about being a faculty member at Fresno State?

The sense of community within the College of Health and Human Services. I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t been warm, welcoming and supportive. Our Fresno State community is strong and positive. 



  -Written by Kelsey Lyman, CHHS Student Writer