What do clay muscles, group workouts and pre-physical therapy classes have in common? They are all part of Grace College’s exercise science program, under the guidance of Program Director Christina Walters. Walters is taking the program to new heights, fueled by student interest and her passion for the profession.
Two years ago, Walters transitioned from Grace’s head athletic trainer to its first full-time exercise science faculty member. “Interest had grown so much that a professional in the field was needed to guide exercise science students and develop the program further,” Walters said. In addition to her experience as an athletic trainer, Walters brought her knowledge from a bachelor’s and master’s degree in athletic training. She earned her bachelor’s at Indiana Wesleyan University, where she was Athletic Training Student of the Year, a two-time NCCAA All-American and a NAIA Honorable Mention All-American for softball. She went on to Ohio University to earn her master’s degree and was named Outstanding Athletic Training Student.
As Walters stepped into the lead faculty role, she thought it was most important to first develop two separate tracks, or concentrations, within the exercise science major. “Some students major in exercise science with the hope of beginning a career in fitness through personal training, nutrition, wellness coaching, and other fields,” Walters explained. “The Health & Wellness concentration best prepares these students to hit the ground running after graduation.”
The other large group of students in exercise science are preparing for graduate school to study physical therapy, athletic training, occupational therapy and other professions. These students have specific prerequisites that must be met and observation requirements in their chosen field. The Pre-Physical Therapy concentration is best for students in this group, according to Walters.
In addition to creating two distinct concentrations, Walters has been busy revamping courses and content, and adding courses including Kinesiology, Introduction to Exercise Science, and Strength and Conditioning. Walters’ Kinesiology course is a source of pride. Using a hands-on approach called Anatomy in Clay, each class period involves creating muscles. “We use clay to build the muscles we’re studying, and then we put them on a skeleton mannequin,” Walters explained. Walters’ Kinesiology students recently toured a cadaver lab, which they thoroughly enjoyed. The students’ interest impressed Walters, who hopes to take future classes back to the lab.
Another recent addition to the program are two new lab spaces in the Gordon Recreation Center for exercise science students. “One lab serves as a space for assessment of VO2 max (volume of oxygen maximum), body composition, muscular strength, balance and flexibility,” said Walters. “The other lab is a functional training space. This allows students to practice exercise instruction and organize groups for workouts.” One day, Walters hopes the labs will be open to all Grace students, faculty, staff and the community to provide fitness testing at an affordable price. “It would be terrific experience for students to use their skills to benefit real clients on our campus and in our community,” she said.
Walters is also looking to expand internship and practicum experiences for exercise science students. “Nothing compares to practical, hands-on experience to prepare students for a career after college,” she said. Walters is passionate about preparing students for successful and fulfilling careers in the exercise science profession. “Every good exercise scientist knows that it is our job to spread knowledge and help people realize the life they want to live. Whether that means being able to play a sport, run a marathon, play with their kids, recover from surgery or beat a disease, that’s what we’re here for.”
Many careers result from an exercise science degree, including athletic trainer, physical therapist, dietitian, fitness director, medical physician, and biomechanist. If you are a prospective student or internship/practicum partner, please contact Christina Walters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-372-5100, ext. 6276, for more information about the Grace College exercise science program.