Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Exercise Science program gains popularity at UIS

Some college students juggle their classes and careers while working toward a degree. At the University of Illinois Springfield, a number of students are working toward a degree while juggling in class.

“In my motor learning class right now we have to learn how to juggle,” said Tiffany Wentworth, a junior exercise science major from Omaha, Nebraska. “I didn’t know how to juggle when we started, but I like to say I’m pretty good at that now.”

Wentworth is one of more than 60 students in the campus’ new Exercise Science degree program and wants to pursue a career in physical therapy.

The juggling is a class activity that demonstrates how people learn, or re-learn, certain motor skills. It’s part of a hands-on curriculum that is preparing students to work in numerous fields that deal with the human body in motion.

The Exercise Science program was first offered in fall 2016, and that wasn’t a moment too soon for Wentworth.

“I was a biology major and after my freshman year my adviser brought up the opportunity for an exercise science major,” Wentworth said. “I just didn’t think biology was helping me prepare for physical therapy, whereas exercise science definitely is. We talk more about the body, and I’m learning much more that I will need later.” “I hope to focus on the older generation or the athletic population — I haven’t really decided yet,” Wentworth said. “There are so many surgeries for hips and knees, so the need for physical therapists is just going to keep growing.”

The Exercise Science program of the UIS Allied Health Department prepares future health professionals in kinesiology, health promotion, physical activity, disease management and professional healthcare programs. Students can choose between a health and fitness track that readies them to be kinesiologists, strength and conditioning coaches, wellness specialists, exercise physiologists, rehabilitation instructors or fitness coordinators for athletic teams.

Celest Weuve is the chair of the UIS Allied Health Department and teaches part of the health and fitness curriculum. She is also the one who introduced juggling into the classroom.

“Motor learning is what you do every time you are learning to do something new. It’s how babies learn to walk. It’s how stroke patients re-learn to do the activities of daily living,” Weuve said. “You can also use it from a performance side, like if you’re trying to learn a new lift or trying to get better at sports. It’s also very applicable if you’re recovering from an injury.”

The undergraduate Exercise Science degree program has proven so successful that UIS will offer a master’s program in athletic training starting with the fall 2018 semester. Many of the prerequisites for the new master’s degree will be satisfied through the Exercise Science curriculum.

Weuve said athletic trainers work in a variety of settings that people may expect, such as amateur and professional athletics, therapy clinics, hospitals, and physician offices. But they are also in demand at military academies, military bases, and police and fire academies because of the physical training required.

Motocross and NASCAR racers also use athletic trainers, Weuve said. “We are also seeing a lot more placement in the performing arts like Cirque du Soleil, ballet, Broadway shows, even into some industrial settings like factories,” Weuve said.

“I just met an athletic trainer who works at a Harley-Davidson manufacturing plant because of the physicality that is required in those types of jobs.”

“Graduates of University of Illinois at Springfield’s Exercise Science degree program who follow the physical therapy track will be well positioned for entry into Doctor of Physical Therapy programs and a health care career that consistently rates as a job in high demand,” said association Executive Director Colleen Flannery.

Flannery added that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physical therapists is expected to grow by 36 percent from 2014 to 2024 as the U.S. population ages and the demand for physical therapy services grows.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on March 26, 2018.

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