By SARA GIBONEY
KEARNEY – Kate Heelan remembers teaching several exercise science labs on bleachers inside Cushing Coliseum.
“Students were on top of each other,” said Heelan, professor of kinesiology and sport sciences at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. “Our whole department has really been restricted with space. This new facility provides an awesome opportunity to bring in more students.”
The new facility – the $6.5 million UNK Wellness Center that houses a new Physical Activity and Wellness Lab – gives students and faculty 19,000 square feet of new space. It also will allow students to receive high quality, hands-on education.
“It’s one thing to learn the theory of why people should change behaviors, but to have hands-on experiences on how to help people change their behavior is huge,” said Heelan.
The Physical Activity and Wellness Lab features a cardiorespiratory fitness lab capable of measuring metabolism, a biochemistry lab, anthropometric lab, DXA lab that can assess body composition and bone mineral density, a data lab, private fitness room and two multipurpose rooms with one featuring a healthy living demonstration kitchen. It also houses five faculty offices and a student suite.
There are about 230 students studying exercise science and 60 students studying athletic training at UNK. Each exercise science course in the core curriculum has a laboratory component.
The new space will allow for 12-13 lab sections per semester. Only eight lab sections could be taught in the former space, known as the Human Performance Lab. The extra space is necessary, according to Nita Unruh, chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Sport Science. The exercise science undergraduate program has tripled in size over the last 10 years.
Twelve years ago, the exercise science program had 79 students. Heelan said. When Heelan began teaching at UNK 15 years ago, she was the only faculty member in the exercise science department. There are now five faculty members.
Heelan said the exercise science major has grown, in part, because of the national and international focus on health and nutrition, and increased interest in obesity prevention.
In addition to creating more space for students and faculty, the lab will allow UNK to expand its collaborations with the community.
“The new Physical Activity and Wellness Lab also has a multipurpose room that will enable us to bring community partners and students into the facility, and have a place to provide educational information sessions,” Heelan said.
Recent community programs include Healthy Families School, Nebraska BMI Screening and Reporting System, Nebraska Kids Fitness and Nutrition Day – which brings nearly 850 fourth-graders to campus for physical activities and nutrition education – and UNKids, a study with the American Heart Association that is following 180 children annually.
UNK also facilitates Building Healthy Families, a 12-week pediatric obesity treatment program. The program offers nutrition education, behavior modification techniques and physical activity for families.
“We also do a lot with Kearney Public Schools and provide schools and families with healthy eating education and physical activity promotion,” Heelan said. “We’re really looking forward to potentially bringing them on site.”
For example, the Kinesiology and Sport Sciences Department has organized programs for parents of preschool children on how to start healthy habits at a young age. These types of programs can now take place on campus in the new lab space.
Some of the community programming and faculty research conducted in the exercise science lab has received national attention. Heelan and other faculty members have worked with Kearney Public Schools to help reduce the prevalence of obesity among students. The district has seen a decrease in the number of obese students, and the progress has been published nationally.
The Wellness Center also features a demonstration kitchen, which will be used during wellness and nutrition classes. The space also will be used for community-based programming.
“That will be a place where our dietician and faculty can provide education on healthy cooking techniques – ways to make foods that are more appropriate for the individual,” Heelan said. “It’s really exciting because we have a lot of community programs where we talk about healthy eating, and this provides an opportunity to really get more hands-on experiences with the students as well as community members.”
Source: Kate Heelan, 308.865.8180, firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: Sara Giboney, 308.865.8529, email@example.com