It’s safe to say that Chantal Bougie is very familiar with the old saying about opening the door when opportunity knocks.
After all, the UW-Eau Claire senior has been opening doors continuously since coming to UW-Eau Claire 3 ½ years ago because opportunity keeps on knocking.
“I never thought I could do all that I have done, experience all that I have experienced, and gain all that I have gained during my undergraduate career,” says Bougie, an Oshkosh native who will graduate this month with a degree in kinesiology. “I would tell any current or future Blugold to take advantage of the opportunities this university offers.
“Go out there, work hard, have some fun and make your dreams a reality because anything is possible with an education at UW-Eau Claire.”
For example, the first-generation college student was the student lead on a research project that is improving the lives of law enforcement officials across the U.S. and Canada.
Bougie’s research team — which includes several students, kinesiology faculty members, the Eau Claire Police Department and Mayo Clinic Health System — completed a study that found that carrying 30 pounds of gear, including things like flashlights and handcuffs, on weight-bearing vests is a healthier alternative for police officers than carrying it on their traditional duty belts.
After the results were shared, the ECPD began transitioning officers to the vests. Requests for information about the study have poured in from dozens of law enforcement agencies across the U.S.
“I’m incredibly fortunate and grateful to have had the opportunity to pursue this type of research,” Bougie says. “It means something to do research with a faculty mentor, but it means so much more when that research impacts the community in such a positive way.”
On a personal level, the research also was valuable because it aligns perfectly with her future career plans, says Bougie, who wants to be a physical therapist.
“I’m interested in finding the root causes of injury and implementing a solution,” says Bougie, who became interested in physical therapy in high school after having surgery on her spine for scoliosis. “This research does that because we investigated different weight-bearing methods and underlying factors to determine whether there was an impact on pain among the police officers.”
Seeing the real-world implications of the research is inspiring her think about her own future a little differently, Bougie says.
“It is so special to lead a study that went so far beyond the university,” Bougie says. “It’s the best feeling in the world knowing that I helped Eau Claire and other communities. It opened my eyes to all the possibilities out there, and has sparked an interest in continuing to pursue research in the future so I can keep giving back.”
While it is a bit nerve-wracking to have her first research project be so high profile, the experience will serve her well in graduate school and in her future career, she says, noting that through the project she honed her research, communication and organizational skills.
“It is so important to take advantage of any of these kinds of high-impact opportunities,” Bougie says. “They allow you to expand your knowledge outside the classroom and apply it to real life. These are the things that make you stand out, but also give you a feeling of satisfaction and success.”
Bougie became involved in the research after connecting with Dr. Jeff Janot, professor of kinesiology and chair of the kinesiology department, through UW-Eau Claire’s McNair Program, a federally funded initiative that helps prepare historically underrepresented groups of students to be successful in graduate programs.
McNair Scholars are paired with faculty mentors, who help them gain the research experiences and skills they will need to be successful in graduate-level studies.
“My experience as a McNair Scholar has been nothing short of amazing,” Bougie says. “This program has opened my eyes to the opportunities out there to further my education. The program set me up for success, and provided me with all the necessary tools and skills needed to take on a research study, and to take on graduate school.”
While her academic experiences at UW-Eau Claire have been life-changing, so, too, are opportunities she found away from the classroom, Bougie says.
When she first came to campus, she worried that with her family far away, she wouldn’t feel supported.
However, thanks to joining the Blugold Beginnings Learning Community, her support system grew and she quickly connected with other students of color.
“Being a part of the BBLC has been one of the best parts of my undergraduate career,” Bougie says. “This learning community has served as a large support system, always setting students up for success. Coming to college, there were so many things I was nervous and uncertain about.
“The week before my freshman year started, Blugold Beginnings held a Jumpstart Camp for its learning community members. This camp was one of the best weeks of my life because I met my first college friends, found my niche and began to feel comfortable on campus.”
Bougie remembers texting her parents after her first weeks as a Blugold and telling them that joining Blugold Beginnings was the best decision she had made.
“I felt so comfortable on campus, had so many friends and had so many opportunities,” Bougie says. “Because of Blugold Beginnings, I’ve been able to experience college in a more well-rounded way.”
Through the program, she also participated in the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, a journey that takes participants to many of the sites that are central to the country’s civil rights movement.
“If I had to pick one experience that stood out to me the most, I would say the Civil Rights Pilgrimage in a heartbeat,” Bougie says. “It was something I will never forget. In 10 days, I learned more about our civil rights history than I did in any history class I’ve taken in my life. There was something about standing in the exact location where a specific historical moment took place that felt so much more intense and real.
“It was during this trip that I realized learning really does go far beyond the classroom.”
Through Blugold Beginnings, she also became active in the Eau Claire community, serving as a college mentor for students at a local elementary school.
Bougie later served as a student intern for Blugold Beginnings, helping other students stay on track with their college plan and serving as part of their support system.
In addition, she also is a longtime volunteer in UW-Eau Claire’s PRIDE program, which provides physical activity and recreation for people with disabilities in the Eau Claire area.
“Through PRIDE, I help children with a variety of special disabilities get physical activity every week,” Bougie says. “This program is one that I hold near and dear to my heart because it opened my eyes to the possibilities out there to promote physical activity.
“I learned the importance of being able to adapt to any given situation because not one method of getting a child engaged in physical activity will work for all other children. PRIDE has helped me learn to think on my feet and find the best way to get these children as active and engaged as possible.”
For the last two years, Bougie has brought her many Blugold experiences together in her role with Campus Ambassadors, a team of students who lead campus tours and share their experiences with prospective students.
“The reason I chose UW-Eau Claire was because I loved everything about it,” Chantal says. “Being a Campus Ambassador allows me to share my love for the university with other prospective students. Being a Campus Ambassador is the icing on the cake of what has been an amazing 3 ½ years here.”
While her college experience has been more than she’d dreamed was possible, Bougie now is looking forward to graduate school to study physical therapy.
Her first career goal, she says, is to work as a physical therapist in a clinical setting.
However, given the experiences she’s had at UW-Eau Claire, she hopes to eventually return to academia, this time as a professor of physical therapy. That would allow her to pursue additional research, but also help students reach their own goals.
After all, she says, she knows from her own experiences the difference caring and talented teachers can make in a student’s life.
“All the professors I have had here at UW-Eau Claire have been amazing, especially my kinesiology professors,” Bougie says. “They truly care about each student and really want us to succeed.
“If there’s one faculty member who has influenced me the most, it is Dr. Janot. He was my professor, but also my advisor and mentor. Knowing that he supports me in all I do and always has my back is the most reassuring feeling. He has pushed me to my fullest potential, provided me with endless opportunities for success, and has always believed in me with everything I did. I am extremely grateful.”
Photo caption: Chantal Bougie has embraced many opportunities during her undergraduate career at UW-Eau Claire.