BHSU Exercise Science graduate makes a difference in Spearfish

Shenae LaCroix, exercise science major from Newcastle, Wyo., is the face behind the BHSU YJ Friends and Bookhouse projects that have made a unique impact in Spearfish over the past two years. Shenae will graduate from BHSU this weekend and plans to become a physical therapist.

As she graduates from Black Hills State University, Shenae LaCroix is leaving Spearfish better than she found it.

Shenae was the recipient of the inaugural "Make a Difference Initiative" Scholarship at Black Hills State University in 2015, established with a $1 million donation by Dr. James Hess, professor of psychology and chair of the College of Behavioral Sciences. In exchange for scholarship funds, Shenae was challenged to implement a community project that will continue to make a difference in the lives of others.

"I created Yellow Jacket (YJ) Friends to give BHSU students a service learning opportunity to work with adults with developmental disabilities within the Spearfish community. The program is growing and it will continue," says Shenae, an exercise science major from Newcastle, Wyo.

This year, 35 BHSU students are involved in YJ Friends as mentors and friends to nearly 40 adults with developmental disabilities within the Spearfish community. The YJ Friends program provides a college-like experience to the mentees as they attend campus and community events together.

With the success of YJ Friends, Shenae applied for and was granted a Make a Difference Scholarship for a second year in 2016. Her "Bookhouse" project is now a Spearfish staple, with 13 bookhouses located throughout the city to promote literacy through free book distribution. Like YJ Friends, the Bookhouse project has strong support with community organizations and elementary classrooms donating books to keep the houses stocked.

Shenae transferred to BHSU her sophomore year of college. She says she was looking for an exercise science program with more direct and practical learning techniques, which she found at BHSU.

"One of our first labs at BHSU was the exercise fitness program. We assessed the patient's fitness and volume oxygen consumption," says Shenae. "The program will have a kinesiology (human movement) lab next year."

Noting the support of her exercise science professors, Shenae says she also enjoyed working in the anatomy lab at BHSU with Dr. Charlie Lamb, professor of biology.

"Working on the cat cadavers helped me understand where the muscles are located, rather than just imagining where the insertions and origins are," says Shenae.

After graduation this weekend, Shenae will build upon her exercise science degree from BHSU in Grand Forks, N.D. where she'll attend graduate school to become a physical therapist. Shenae says she'll miss her friends and the connections she's made in Spearfish and at BHSU but is looking forward to her next step.

"It's been a great experience," says Shenae.