The University Record, February 4, 1998

Kinesiology poised to meet trends in demography, interests

The Division of Kinesiology adopted a student-focused philosophy--"We Care"--several years ago that is demonstrated in small classes with faculty in the classroom and a strong advising program that sees students working with counseling professionals in their first two years and faculty members in their junior and senior years. Its new building, located at the corner of Washtenaw and Geddes, finally brings students, faculty and staff together in one location, offering greater cohesiveness to the unit's activities. Students in Patricia Materka's public speaking class took a break last week to help showcase the unit's new sign. Materka is an adjunct lecturer and program associate. Students in the photo are Benjamin Atkinson, Scott Howard, David Stern, Cary Belen, Stacey Meteer, Michael Lovernictc, Chris Schaller, Jonathan Kule, Karen LuKritz, Lauren Clister, Amalia Levit, Chad Michel, Nicole Boyea, Jennifer Pace, Jason Glass and Carolyn Miller. Photo by Rebecca A. Doyle


By Jane R. Elgass

Kinesiology. Difficult to spell. Tricky to pronounce. But it is a growing professional field preparing increasing numbers of students for careers ranging from cardiac rehabilitation to sport law.

Historically a small department preparing physical education teachers, Kinesiology became an independent degree-granting unit in 1984. The second youngest of the schools and colleges (the School of Public Policy is the youngest) has seen its enrollment double in less than a decade.

To keep pace with this growth, teaching and research space has nearly tripled in the same period, culminating in a new "front door" to the unit on the corner of Washtenaw and Geddes.

Director Dee W. Edington attributes the popularity to a diverse faculty and its interdisciplinary approach to the causes and consequences of movement.

"There are courses related to sports, leisure and recreation in other units, such as LS&A, social work, public health and medicine," Edington says, "but we are the one place where these studies are not offered in isolation.

"Movement is a basic function of humans, one of the first things people do," he says. "The study of movement has to take place in a comprehensive university like the U-M, and the best place for it is in an interdisciplinary program."

Edington notes that the field of kinesiology, originally limited to preparing physical education teachers, has changed with society and that the Division's maturing and evolving course offerings now attract more students than can be accommodated. The unit has a current enrollment of some 700 undergraduates and 50 graduate students in four program areas.

Students in the movement science program go on to careers in such fields as physical therapy, medicine, cardiac rehabilitation and corporate wellness as well as pursuing graduate studies.

The sports management and communication program attracts those interested in facility management, management of sports organizations, the sports business (apparel and equipment), and the recreation and leisure industries, with some going on to law school.

Students majoring in athletic training find their careers leading down a variety of paths including physical therapy, athletic training and rehabilitation, strength training and osteoporosis prevention, with some becoming personal trainers.

And a small core pursue teaching physical education, primarily in public K-12 schools.

Edington notes that the Division's faculty are organized around similar categories of specialization. The work of some is drawn from both the biological and psychological sciences, focusing on the causes and consequences of movement, what happens when movement takes place and how movement responds to diseases.

Those working with future physical education teachers emphasize pedagogy, while faculty involved in preparing students for careers in the sports, fitness and leisure enterprises approach teaching and research from business, legal and sociological viewpoints.

Still others focus on lifestyle and how movement influences one's health.

One aspect of the Division's programs that sets it apart from others is its emphasis on internships, Edington says. "The concept of a placement bureau, with companies coming here to recruit, is not realistic for our students. Many of the companies that hire kinesiology graduates are small, startup organizations that can't afford to recruit. So we are a sort of prototype for future ways the University will help students discover and create new job opportunities.

"We suggest that students go out and find a job or create their own. We encourage them to look for internships as early as their freshman year. Students are able to learn outside the classroom and gain real-world experience through internships," Edington notes. "This enhances our junior- and senior-level classes. The experience also becomes very valuable at graduation time, and sometimes even before. Some students learn through an internship that what they thought they wanted to do isn't to their liking."

The Division also boasts a strong research program, with activities totaling about $2.5 million, 50 percent of total expenditures. Several faculty hold five-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants and three have been identified as NIH New Investigators. The unit also receives significant support from the corporate world, about $3 million in recent years.

Edington sees the U-M program as a model for other universities, and the faculty has identified several trends on which kinesiology will have a major impact in the coming years:

 

Demographic shifts. The huge increase in the number of people over age 65 raises issues related to mobility in "normal" aging as well as clinical disorders related to aging. Demographic shifts, Edington says, "make it imperative to understand how age affects movement and how movement affects the physical function of the body."

 

Awareness of health and fitness. More Americans are aware of the health benefits of exercise and wellness than in the past, but there still are high levels of physical inactivity and obesity, which contribute to lifestyle-related diseases and costly medical care and rehabilitation. "Kinesiology is a training ground for persons skilled in disease prevention, rehabilitation and research," Edington notes.

 

Growth of the sport industry. "As consumers began to value sport for entertainment as well as participation, the associated industries have achieved unprecedented growth," Edington explains. Market size is estimated at $179 billion per year, with 20 percent annual growth, making it the 25th largest industry in the United States.

 

Globalization of fitness and sport. Thanks to technology advances, the entire world can now watch major sporting events regardless of their place of origin. Communication, a central intellectual facet of kinesiology, examines audience interaction with media sports and the impact of sport and fitness content on consumers.

 

Emergence of sports policy. "Political changes in China, Eastern Europe, Africa and the former Soviet Union," Edington notes, "have created new sport collaborations and fostered new international rivalries. And, the global economy has enhanced the political clout of transnational sports organizations."

Additionally, the U.S. courts are expected in the next 10 years to address a number of important sports-related issues such as antitrust applications to professional sports, the legal role of the National Collegiate Athletic Association as an agent for its members and state-based movements to establish better youth sport coaching standards and competencies.

 

Evolution of physical education. School physical education programs are moving from the tradition of teaching only sports skills to an emphasis on programs focusing on healthy lifestyles, wellness and community enrichment. Physical educators now document their program's effectiveness in improving physical fitness, knowledge, motor skills and personal/social skills.

 

Pursuit of leisure. "A continuing shift in the work ethic has made work a means to an end," Edington says, "the end being more time for leisure, recreation, health maintenance, sport entertainment and overall balance in one's life."

In 1990 alone, Americans spent more than $450 billion on recreation and travel services. In 1996, sales related to health, dieting and weight control exceeded $70 billion.