Student Stories: Ryan Riccitelli

Ryan Riccitelli


Major: Physical Therapist Assistant

Ryan Riccitelli’s first career began on Madison Avenue.

“I successfully spent 12 years as an art director in New York City’s advertising industry, where I conceptualized and created ideas for the world’s most recognized brands at the country’s most prominent agencies,” he said. “Over time, after the combination of family illness, industry downturn and witnessing the events of 9/11, I felt called to follow a more rewarding career path.”

When his wife’s job relocated the family to the Chicago area, Riccitelli realized his passion was for health care.

“I took the initiative to explore and did some career counseling, and eventually I found a home in the field of physical therapy,” he said. “When I was in New York, my mom was diagnosed with brain cancer, and I witnessed how the physical therapist worked with her.”

Having previously pursued graphic design as an undergraduate, he was ready to return to school after discovering the Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program at College of DuPage. He held several part-time jobs while taking classes and caring for his family.

It was during his first physical therapy clinical rotation that Riccitelli knew he had found a rewarding career path.

“My passion for the physical therapy field and a validation of my career change was justified in my ability to immerse myself in the culture of a neurological clinic, and to respond to the most challenging aspects of treating stroke and brain injury patients without hesitation,” he said. “On my first day, I was sworn at in Korean, Spanish, Bosnian and English. I was slapped, kicked, bit and changed a screaming teenager’s soiled undergarment—and I couldn’t wait to go back for more! I found myself feeling the utmost empathy for these patients, who were afflicted by high-level injuries and suffering extreme levels of hurt. My time there also brought back positive memories of my late mother.

“The overall experience is one I will never forget and has been overwhelmingly influential in shaping my physical therapy career trajectory.”

Riccitelli also found work in the College’s Learning Commons as a professional tutor after being recommended by Associate Professor Tara Leszczewicz, who was impressed with his excellent work in her Anatomy and Physiology course. As a tutor, he developed original lesson plans to independently lead three class sections through high-level anatomical lecture and laboratory content.

In addition, he helped his fellow students by organizing study groups for their health care courses and participated in the filming of a promotional video for the PTA program. As a PTA Student Ambassador with Scorebuilders.com, he arranged to acquire discount study guides for multiple students who required financial aid.

Outside the classroom, he considers community involvement an essential component of family life. This includes co-chairing the “Art Awareness” program at his daughters’ elementary school and serving as a classroom coordinator to fundraise, arrange student parties and chaperone field trips.

“The big thing we preach to our daughters is to get involved, so we should practice what we preach,” he said.

Earning his Associate in Applied Science degree, Riccitelli was named one the College’s Outstanding Graduate finalists. His goal includes finding a position that will start him on a rewarding career.

“I feel called to serve the high-level needs of the geriatric, pediatric, neurologic and amputee demographics to help them regain functional independence,” he said. “I am committed to earning opportunities across therapeutic settings to gain this experience, which will enhance the growth of the workplace as well as my own professional development.”

Riccitelli cannot say enough good things about COD, including its size, available programming and sense of community.

“I am confident I made the right decision with my career transition, and I know where I belong,” he said. “I am eager to continue this journey by helping my patients, and I am now prepared to do so thanks to my time at College of DuPage. In fact, I don’t want to leave COD!”

More about the Physical Therapist Assistant program at College of DuPage