Marisela Palma Barraza in an orange blazer and striped shirt standing near a bring wall

News & Features

Crossing the finish line

Friday, May 7, 2021

Northeastern Illinois University Physical Education major Marisela Palma Barraza is ending her undergraduate career with a slam dunk. She was named Major of the Year by the Society of Health and Physical Education (SHAPE) America at the organization's 135th National Convention and Expo, held virtually April 13-17, 2021.

The award celebrates outstanding undergraduate students in the health, physical education, recreation and dance professions who are nominated by a faculty advisor or professor. 

“The outstanding achievements of future professionals like Marisela is integral to the future of SHAPE America and our profession,” said SHAPE America President Brett Fuller of Milwaukee Public Schools.

Palma Barraza, who also co-presented research paper, “How Physical Education, Sport, and Technology Influence College Students’ Activity Levels,” at the SHAPE America National Convention, is planning to graduate this spring. She came to Northeastern to earn her degree in physical education to build healthier communities.  

“I am a kinesthetic person,” Palma Barraza said. “I grew up playing basketball and many team sports, and have been coaching basketball for many years now. I wanted to earn my degree in physical education to help students learn how to lead active, healthy lifestyles and help their families and communities as well. I am applying for teaching positions in the Chicago Public Schools. I would like an opportunity to serve students in a diverse community and be able to help other Spanish-speaking students like myself.”

Palma Barraza has volunteered with Special Olympics Illinois as a coach for basketball and field hockey events. She was a teacher assistant at Refugee Education and Adventure Challenge (REACH) where she taught local refugee students a variety of athletic and outdoor skills over the summer in 2019. She has coached girls basketball, girls soccer and volleyball at Francis W. Parker in Lincoln Park for a number of years.

“While physical education has the unique responsibility for teaching kids to be physically active, it also must help students with their cognitive and with socio-emotional needs,” Palma Barraza said. “It is my responsibility to connect with each of my students individually in order to understand how I can help them learn and grow to the best of their abilities.There are so many types of learners!”

Assistant Professor of Physical Education Kimberly Maljak nominated Palma Barraza for the SHAPE America award because of her consistently strong academic performance and community involvement. 

“Marisela is a gifted and talented student who set her expectations high and accomplished many things while at NEIU,” Maljak said. “Her growth as a student, undergraduate researcher, and leader/advocate for the Health & P.E. Student Organization contributed to her success and deserving this award.” 

Palma Barraza noted that she is thankful for all of the support she received from Northeastern, including being able to participate in various organizations and earning several scholarships, because it all contributed to her success.

“There are a lot of support programs in place at NEIU,” Palma Barraza said. “I participated in TRIO and they really helped me with tutoring. My advice to current and future students is to get involved by volunteering at events on campus or finding a student organization that you feel passionate about. These are great ways to meet other students, professors, and mentors that will all help you succeed during your time at NEIU.”