Commencement: From Suriname to doctorate, graduate talks about her “amazing experience”

Nishani Cicilson

Nishani Cicilson

When Nishani Cicilson left her home country of Suriname eight years ago with a swimming scholarship to Youngstown State University, she never guessed it would be her steppingstone to a doctorate degree.

Cicilson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from YSU in 2013, graduates this Saturday, May 7, with a doctorate in Physical Therapy. Spring Commencement in Beeghly Center on campus is 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

While at YSU, Cicilson has enjoyed a range of hands-on volunteer and clinical experience across the region.

She practiced physical therapy as a volunteer at YSU’s Midlothian Free Health Clinic, serving low-income uninsured and underinsured patients. Clinical experiences followed, including work at an outpatient cardiopulmonary rehab center in Girard and nine weeks in acute care at Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren. Now, she’s serving students with minor and severe disabilities in the Mahoning County Schools.

“What I really love about physical therapy is that you don’t have to work in just one setting,” she said. “There are so many options. I like pediatrics, and I’m hoping to find work in the Youngstown area.”

Growing up in a small South American country north of Brazil, Cicilson was a talented competitive swimmer and earned a full-ride scholarship that paid for her undergraduate studies at YSU. She competed with the Lady Penguins Swimming and Diving Team for four years. “When I was swimming, I set a personal record in the 50-yard freestyle, but the team is doing so well, they’ve surpassed it. I think that’s a good thing.”

Her YSU swim coach, Matt Anderson, trained her to qualify for competition in the World Swimming Championships her sophomore year, representing Suriname. She swam the best long course in her career at that event. “It was an amazing experience and I’m so grateful,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without him.”

Cicilson’s parents still live in Suriname, and her sister is a software developer in Amsterdam. She has worked part-time as a student employee at YSU’s Andrews Student Recreation and Wellness Center since 2013 and continues to swim for fitness and recreation at the YSU’s Beeghly Center pool. “It’s a lifelong activity,” she said. “I really enjoy the Beeghly pool, but when I graduate I’ll definitely find somewhere else to swim!”