Category: KNPE

Engage U.S. ready to launch with trip to Olympic City USA

Brandon Male

Brandon Male

All of the world’s eyes – Brandon Male’s included – are on South Korea.

But the instructor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KNPE) is looking at the Winter Olympics through a different lens, one that understands that the games are far more than athletes, medals, national anthems and must-watch TV.

Male is preparing to select and accompany a dozen NIU College of Education students this May to the U.S. Olympic Training Center, also known as Olympic City USA, in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Stop One on the trip, coming at the half-way point of the drive, is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where the Engage U.S. students will visit the Nebraska Athletic Performance Laboratory.

It’s among the first ventures of Engage U.S., a new addition to the Educate and Engage Program and tailored for students who are not in teacher-licensure programs. Thanks to generous funding from donors to the college and the department, students selected for the trip will pay almost nothing.

“This is a big opportunity for our Exercise Science and Sport Management students to gain a little insight and to get their own Olympic experience,” Male says. “This is going to be the start of something cool.”

team-usaHuskies chosen for the trip will engage with, and learn from, coaches and other practitioners and administrators who work at the U.S. Olympic headquarters. Male also hopes his travelers will meet current Olympic athletes.

USA Swimming and USA Shooting also house their national headquarters on the complex, which covers 35 acres and can provide housing, dining, training facilities, recreational facilities and other services for more than 500 athletes and coaches at one time.

NIU students will stay in the training center’s dormitories and enjoy use of the fitness facilities and swimming pools, he adds.

Field trips are planned to the Air Force Academy and the headquarters of the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

“Colorado Springs is kind of the fitness, strength and conditioning capitol of the United States,” Male says. “It’s kind of like Silicon Valley is for the technology industry.”

KNPE Chair Chad McEvoy was instrumental in bringing Male’s vision to life.

“Dr. McEvoy had a couple contacts there, including a former student who’s moved on to the USA Triathlon. He still knows some folks there, though, and did a little networking, made a few phone calls – business development is his title – and they ate it up,” Male says.

“Every once in a while, the Olympic Training Center has a university tour that comes out, but they’re trying to get more experience with more young people, with more up-and-coming professionals, and they’re really trying to push the Olympics to help grow and cultivate Team USA. They’re very on board. They love the idea.”

Chad McEvoy

Chad McEvoy

“Our Kinesiology program at NIU provides exceptional opportunities for students to pursue their passion for working in fitness and exercise related professions,” McEvoy says. “This Engage U.S. experience with the Olympic Training Center will allow our students to immerse themselves in sport performance at its peak.”

Past the invaluable lessons of the industry lie the kinds of experiences that are only available outside the classroom, Male says, including new skills, greater confidence and the inspiration to “better themselves to become the highest level of professional.”

“I hope these students realize that it’s a big world out there with a lot of really great opportunities. I hope they come back with a more global perspective, and that it’s important to reach out, to make contact with people and to take a chance,” Male says.

“I want them to think about those employers, those graduate schools and those jobs that might seem too good to be true, or too much of a big fish, and to go for it,” he adds. “At its core – at its root – what this is is a networking opportunity, to just go out there and meet people, and this is an opportunity to go out there and meet the best of the best. Who better to talk to you about that than Team USA?”



Exercise Science Club students shine at Abominable Snow Race

Caitlin Paxton (right) and Dave Benner work with a child in the Winners Circle.

Caitlin Paxton (right) and Dave Benner work
with a child in the Winners Circle.

Caitlin Paxton’s journey to the foot of a snowy Lake Geneva mountain drew her into the heart of the Abominable Snow Race.

But amid the frigid cold and friendly competition, the senior from Plano found affirmation of her dream to teach Physical Education to elementary school children.

“I helped with the ‘Little Yeti’ race, which was a kid’s version. It was so fun; they were so cute,” says Paxton, who will begin student-teaching in the fall.

More than 100 children from ages 4 to 12 participated in the Jan. 27 event, she says.

“We had six different obstacles. They had to go and run the obstacles, sled down one hill and run up another, sled down another and run across the finish line. They got medals, just like the adults did,” she says. “I was really surprised. It was cold and slippery, but they were determined to do it.”

Paxton joined a dozen classmates in NIU’s Exercise Science Club in making the trip to “The Midwest’s Premier Winter Obstacle Race,” which each year attracts up to 2,700 runners eager to tap into their “inner Yeti.”

Tony Calderala, an academic advisor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, arranged for the dozen club members to volunteer along the course and in the “Base Camp” area.

exercise-science-club

After arriving Friday evening in Wisconsin and grabbing some dinner, the Huskies made their way to the Grand Geneva Ski Resort to begin assembling their pegboard obstacle, which challenged racers to go up and over in a test of their athleticism.

“Overall, it went pretty well,” Calderala says. “On Race Day, we got there about 6:30 in the morning, set up our last-minute items, helped in the volunteer tents and at the starting line. All of the students were course marshals for the competition heats; if racers failed an obstacle, we took away one of their three wristbands.”

For an hour after the race, he says, NIU’s pegboard proved a popular and favorite attraction. Many of the racers called it “a great way to practice,” he says.

Bill Wolfe tackles NIU’s pegboard.

Bill Wolfe tackles NIU’s pegboard.

“Racers coming off the course wanted to challenge themselves more,” he says. “We had a timing competition – how fast could they do it? Or how many times could they go up and down without touching the ground? Bill Wolfe, the owner of Abominable Snow Race, said, ‘I gotta try it.’ He went for it and did pretty well. We had kids and their parents.”

NIU’s students were able to do some teaching of good race technique – “It’s not all upper-body; it’s about core,” Calderala says – and get first-hand looks at some aspects of sport management.

Among the issues: up-and-down temperatures froze the course overnight from Friday to Saturday; bright sun Saturday morning melted the ice and turned parts of course into mud and slush, snagging ATVs and requiring the distribution of water by foot; some volunteers failed to show.

“We met gym owners and were able to discuss what goes designing these courses: ‘What did you think about when you put it together? Why did you put it together this way?’ They learned that in the construction of these obstacles, they actually think through what this is going to look like and how it’s going to affect an athlete.”

Students also saw some injuries – “ankle sprains, bumps, bruises, nothing serious” – and learned how to help athletes keep going if they need some medical attention.

basecampOwners of the Abominable Snow Race were impressed by NIU’s contributions, which including “filling the void” caused by missing volunteers.

“The feedback from ASR was great,” Calderala says. “They want to do more here at NIU, so we want to see what that looks like and see what we can offer.”



All-college meeting motivates faculty, staff to set 2018 focus

Laurie Elish-Piper

Laurie Elish-Piper

Laurie Elish-Piper plans to inspire – and expects to find inspiration – in 2018.

The dean of the NIU College of Education used the platform of the spring all-college meeting to reveal her “one word” focus for personal development and effort and to also encourage faculty and staff to choose their own “one word” missions.

“Mine is ‘inspire.’ One of my goals is to inspire others to do their best work, to set higher goals and to engage,” Elish-Piper told the audience. “I also want to make sure that I take the time to look at, learn about and be inspired by all the amazing work you’re doing.”

Evidence of that work proved in ample supply during the 90-minute meeting Jan. 9, which also included remarks from Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman.

Shining examples included expansion of Educate U.S., which this semester will send students to practice their teaching skills at a Native American reservation in North Dakota.

Meanwhile, Elish-Piper said, the “Engage” division of the donor- and partner-funded Educate and Engage Program soon will provide “fabulous opportunities” to non-licensure students.

Kinesiology majors can travel to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado while Sport Management students can visit several facilities in Indianapolis, including the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

College of Ed faculty and staff learned from David Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs, that enrollment in the College of Education is climbing, something unique among NIU’s seven colleges.

strategic-frameworkWalker (one word: “care”) partially attributed those gains – up 0.76 percent at the undergraduate level, and up 4.26 percent at the graduate level, for a grand total of 2.41 percent at the time of the all-college meeting – to the college’s emphasis on intentional growth, a pillar of the Strategic Action Planning Framework.

At the undergraduate level, the college is working on one new degree (the B.S. in Sport Management), four new minors (including the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education’s minor in Social Change Leadership), 19 new courses and three new certificates of study that will all be ready for Fall 2018 enrollment.

Graduate programs added a new certificate and a new specialization, both in the Department of Special and Early Education, and 17 new courses for Fall 2018.

Honors enrollment of College of Education students soared 24 percent in one year, Walker added.

Bill Pitney, associate dean of Research, Resources and Innovation, reported on progress in the framework’s Research Advancement objective despite small drops in the college’s research productivity.

Ben Creed and Zach Wahl-Alexander

Ben Creed and Zach Wahl-Alexander

Pitney (one word: “grace”) saluted two professors – Ben Creed from the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations; and Zachary Wahl-Alexander, from the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education – who were named to the PI Academy External Mentoring Program.

Five faculty members were recognized as recipients of Dean’s Research Grants. All eventually will present the results of their work, as previous grantees did during the fall semester.

It all sounded wonderful to Freeman, who called herself “optimistic about NIU’s future.”

“The College of Education values and priorities align with NIU’s mission and core values, as well as the university’s commitments to excellence, knowledge creation, innovative practice and social justice,” Freeman said.

“Moreover, your strategic planning efforts are appropriately reflective of the opportunities identified through Program Prioritization,” she added, “as well as the historical importance of the College of Education as an anchor of the university and a leader in P-20 educational innovation across our region, state, nation and world.”

She applauded the college’s new ranking from U.S. News & World Report – “As impressive as the No. 5 ranking is that the college was ranked No. 3 for peer respect. People are talking about NIU,” she said – as well as the University of Tetovo exhibition in the Blackwell History of Education Museum.

Laurie Elish-Piper and Lisa Freeman

Laurie Elish-Piper and Lisa Freeman

NIU’s chief executive encouraged the audience to “hope for the best and plan for the worst” when it comes to Springfield and budgets. The university is “prepared for the unthinkable,” she added.

Higher education must actively engage in the conversation in Illinois as some call for consolidation, she said. “We shouldn’t be staying away from tough conversations. We should be encouraging realistic conversation,” she said. “What we need to do is be unafraid to speak.”

Freeman then revealed her “one word” for 2018 – “relationships” – which reinforces the importance of collaboration.

Relationships provide resources for individuals and institutions. Relationships surround people with others who see the world differently. Relationships heal, reaffirm, encourage and, with a nod to Dean Elish-Piper, inspire.

“When you can never get enough time or money to do something,” Freeman said, “the value of relationships is one that should never be underestimated.”

Enjoy photos from the all-college meeting and the festive “Winter Wonderland” social event that followed immediately in the Learning Center.



College of Education maintains nearly perfect edTPA pass rates

Sarah Paver

Sarah Paver

When Sarah Paver began her student-teaching class last August, the graduate student in Physical Education quickly became concerned.

“I was very nervous when the edTPA came up,” says Paver, who graduated in December. “A lot of my classmates had said that they had read the handbook over the summer. I didn’t look at anything until September.”

No problem, though.

The now-NIU alumna aced the edTPA with a score of 66 – 37 points or more is considered passing – to earn the highest Fall 2017 mark of any teacher-licensure student across the NIU campus.

Licensure candidates in the College of Education itself posted a 97 percent passage rate last semester, with nearly all of the 70 undergraduate and graduate students who submitted materials earning stamps of approval.

Passage of the edTPA, which measures a teacher-candidate’s abilities in planning, instruction and assessment, is required to obtain teacher licensure in Illinois and several other states.

Candidates must submit video of their actual teaching of between three and five lessons along with follow-up evidence that their students were learning and achieving. Candidates also must supply examples of further support they provided to students and subsequent plans for future teaching based on the earlier assessment.

For Paver, described by a former professor as “focused, hard-working, well-rounded and really warm and good with kids,” the road to edTPA victory was paved in sections.

edtpa-logo“Once I buckled down, I really conquered it one step at a time,” she says. “I did Task One in one week. I just spent one entire week filming.”

Subsequent steps came after short breaks. “Once I finished one task, I didn’t jump right into the next because it was so easy to burn out,” she says. “If I didn’t put it away and not touch it for a couple days, it could be super-overwhelming.”

Although her submission was complete and ready by the end of October, she held on to it. “We still had two weeks before we had to submit, so I went back and reviewed everything,” she says.

Jim Ressler, professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, says the motivation of NIU College of Education students to teach fuels their continued edTPA success.

“They understand that their ability to acquire teacher-licensure in Illinois rests on a passing edTPA score, along with all of the other degree requirements we have in the program, so they take it seriously,” Ressler says. “They understand that being an effective teacher includes the things that the edTPA asks of them, which reinforces the things we believe are important.”

Jim Ressler

Jim Ressler

For example, he adds, “that includes having very clear and dynamic lesson plans. It includes trying to meet the needs of every students. It includes supporting your decisions as a teacher with meaningful data from across all learning domains.”

“Because the edTPA is a performance-based assessment, our candidates are being asked to demonstrate more than what they have learned in their teacher-training programs,” adds Jennifer Johnson, the College of Education’s director of teacher preparation and development.

“They are being asked to demonstrate an understanding of teaching and learning within their own context, their own student-teaching experience. This is something that faculty have prepared them for throughout their coursework and early field clinical experiences,” she says. “NIU College of Education faculty are engaged in the process of preparing exemplary teacher-candidates, and I believe that our candidates’ edTPA results reflect that.”

Paver logged her student-teaching hours at Old Post Elementary School in Oswego. She chose lessons in catching-and-throwing for her video submissions, later measuring student achievement in cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains.

“My cooperating teacher there, Robin Ormsbee, was a great resource for me,” Paver says. “She also videotaped me.”

Children provided hard information on comprehension through a written test with questions on offensive and defensive strategies and the difference between the two.

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson

They also demonstrated their skills for Paver before, during and after her lessons as she walked among them for first-hand observation. She also watched for signs of respect of their classmates and ability to take constructive criticism, factors that satisfied the affective domain.

“I really enjoyed Oswego and the elementary and junior high schools. I really enjoyed the consistency of teaching full time. It’s the first time I’ve had that, considering clinicals are only an hour a day,” she says.

“I also enjoyed getting to know the students,” she adds. “It was quite sad to leave. You build such great relationships with the kids and the cooperating teachers.”

Paver isn’t sure when she’ll enter the gymnasium again.

Currently using her bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training at an OSF HealthCare centers in Ottawa and Mendota, she is open to Physical Education jobs that would begin in the fall and keep her close to home in her native Big Rock, Ill.

“I’m very happy with the job I have right now,” she says, “but I think that my eyes are always open for teaching positions if the right teaching job came along. I really enjoy the middle- and high-school age, and would love to continue.”

gym-ballsMeanwhile, the future teacher has lessons for NIU students still facing the edTPA.

“Conquer in chunks. Focus on one task at a time. Videotape sooner than later. Task One is videotaping, and you just can’t hold it off until the last minute.”

Also, she says, don’t miss the opportunity to solicit support from classmates. “Our student-teaching class met every two weeks,” she says. “I would make sure I had each task completed before I went to class so I could ask good questions.”

Help is also always available from Judy Boisen, the Office of Educator Licensure and Preparation’s full-time edTPA coordinator.

“Judy is someone we’ve asked to make guest appearances in two or three of our program seminars each semester,” Ressler says. “Our students know Judy. She’s been an incredible resource.”



EdLEAD names first cohort

Chad McEvoy

Chad McEvoy

NIU cultivates a dynamic and enriching environment for faculty looking to grow as professionals, but the College of Education believes there is always room for improvement.

“On our campus and so many other campuses, we are very intentional about professional development for teaching. We have resources on our campus in that regard,” says Chad McEvoy, chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

“We’re also very intentional about research development as, again, are many other universities,” McEvoy adds. “We’re not always as intentional when it comes to developing future leaders.”

The challenge is clear, he says.

“For our college and our university to be successful in the future, we need strong leaders and we need to develop future strong leaders who are going to be our future deans, associate deans, department chairs, program directors and other administrators on campus,” he says.

“But how do we prepare our faculty and others to not only fill these positions but to excel in these positions in the future? That’s a thought I’ve had in my head for a long time.”

Enter EdLEAD, the College of Education Leadership Education and Development Program.

edlead-logoDesigned to invest in the intentional development of leadership skills for faculty who aspire to take on such positions, EdLEAD will present a series of professional development workshops through the spring and summer semesters of 2018.

Faculty in the program then will spend the 2018-19 academic year in hands-on leadership projects that provide practical experience.

Members of the first cohort:

  • Mary Beth Henning, Department of Curriculum and Instruction
  • Steve Howell, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education
  • Jim Ressler, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education
  • Kelly Summers, Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations
  • Stephen Tonks, Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations
  • Paul Wright, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education

All will find “robust preparation to grow, learn, take on new opportunities and expand their careers in different ways,” says Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the College of Education.

ed-lead-profs

Top row: Mary Beth Henning and Steve Howell Middle row: Jim Ressler and Kelly Summers Bottom row: Stephen Tonks and Paul Wright

“Higher ed is facing a lot of challenges, and having highly qualified leaders who are ready to step in is critical to the health and wellbeing of any academic institution,” Elish-Piper says.

“We want to make sure we are investing in our faculty who aspire to take on leadership roles,” she adds. “We truly believe that professional development of leadership skills will not only enhance the contributions these people will make but also their experiences at NIU.”

McEvoy initiated early conversations with Elish-Piper and associate deans Bill Pitney and David Walker, discovering that they shared similar visions and approaches.

“Early in the fall semester, Dean Elish-Piper asked if I would be involved,” McEvoy says. “I’m excited to help build our emerging leaders in the college. I don’t know that any of us would claim to be expert leaders, per se, but we are people who are trying hard to lead the units that we oversee.”

Making the transition to leadership can occur naturally but not easily, he says, further justifying the EdLEAD model.

“We often look at our strong faculty members as strong in teaching, strong in scholarship and strong in the service area, and then we thrust those strong faculty into leadership roles,” McEvoy says.

“The skills and hard work that allowed them to become effective faculty members generally do translate to helping them excel in some of these leadership activities,” he says, “but we need to equip them with leadership training and development that will enable them to excel further.”

Pitney and Walker are confident that EdLEAD will accomplish just that.

Bill Pitney, Laurie Elish-Piper and David Walker

Bill Pitney, Laurie Elish-Piper and David Walker

“EdLEAD is a way to support and extend faculty leadership development, and I’m excited because it is an investment in our future,” says Pitney, associate dean of Research, Resources and Innovation.

“The program will raise awareness of critical and noteworthy issues facing higher education and its leaders locally and nationally,” he adds. “It will also explore ways to effectively lead during challenging times in higher education at multiple levels: department, college and university.”

Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs, is eager to see college-faculty collaboration “to assist in developing future leaders in our own setting and also throughout NIU.”

“I really see this program as a unique set of opportunities to explore and develop, with the support of numerous leaders across campus, in areas such as budget, data use for decision-making, consensus building, communication or working with external constituents,” he says.

“We have a great group of six faculty participants,” he adds, “and we will all benefit from interacting and learning from each other.”



Pomp and circumstance: NIU celebrates fall commencement

capNIU College of Education graduates stepped in the spotlight last month during the fall commencement ceremonies.

Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman told the audience at the Dec. 17 undergraduate ceremony about Nick Wilstie, who earned a bachelor’s in Physical Education.

During the Dec. 16 Graduate School ceremony, Freeman spoke about Jeff Ware, who earned a doctorate in Curriculum Leadership.

Here are President Freeman’s comments.

Nick Wiltsie

Nick Wiltsie lives by two words: role model.

Nick Wiltsie

Nick Wiltsie

He counts many in his world. His parents, Wade and Jody. His high school gym teacher, Mr. Crabel. His fellow soldiers.

And a role model is what Nick has already become. To his four younger siblings. To his fellow cadets in the ROTC. To sophomores and seniors at St. Charles North, where he student-taught this fall.

Finally, continuing as a role model … continuing to inspire, motivate and shape … is what Nick plans for the rest of his life.

During high school, he envisioned his future in teaching P.E., just like Mr. Crabel.

With today’s degree in Physical Education, he sees the gymnasium as where he can exercise his gifts of mentoring and advising young people into the best people they can be.

It’s where teens without positive, guiding lights in their lives can find one in him. It’s where he will teach lifelong, fun and healthy skills of physical activity.

But that career must wait.

Two days ago, Nick proudly stood in our Sandburg Auditorium for commissioning as an officer in the U.S. Army. In doing so, he realized the dream he’s nurtured since second-grade in Elgin, Illinois.

When Nick visited NIU in high school, he connected with ROTC. He enlisted in the Army Reserves fresh from graduation in 2013, serving one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer ever since. He is the first member of the military from his family.

In ROTC, he became Cadet of the Month … and Cadet of the Year. He earned three Army achievement medals.

Now he is ready to lead soldiers … something he considers parallel to teaching students … in serving, as he says, “God, country and family” … in protecting the nation he loves.

Motivated by faith … driven by community service … he embodies the philosophy he instills in others: Find something you love to do … and do it. Congratulations, Nick!

Jeff Ware

NIU graduates make a difference in the lives of people across our Chicago region … and also across the world.

Jeff Ware

Jeff Ware

Jeff Ware, who receives his doctorate today in Curriculum Leadership, provides an inspiring example.

For 25 years, he taught Spanish at Glenbrook North High School, in the affluent suburb of Northbrook.  In 2015, he left that post to work with the impoverished in Guatemala, one of the world’s poorest nations. Nearly half of the 16 million people there live on less than $2 a day.

As executive director of the nonprofit Hope Renewed International in Guatemala, Jeff oversees job programs; scholarships for children and adults from the slums; a home for girls who have been abused, abandoned or neglected; and a pre-school located on the outskirts of Central America’s largest garbage dump, where many of the children’s parents eke out a living scavenging.

Jeff wants the poorest of the poor to have the same opportunities for education as their peers living outside the dump. He has plans to expand the pre-school into an elementary school … to create a home for adolescent boys living on the streets … and to help develop a nursing education program.

Says NIU curriculum instruction professor Elizabeth Wilkins, “Jeff is working to change a country, and he knows the way to do it is through education.”

Jeff began working on his doctorate in 2009. When he answered this new calling, some suggested he put the dissertation aside.

But Jeff couldn’t let go … even if it meant working across borders, over a sketchy Internet connection and at all hours of the night.

“Credentials in Latin America mean a lot because not many people have them,” he says. His efforts also provided an important example to young people there.

Now he’s putting his high-level expertise to use in numerous ways, from providing input on curriculum to creating research-backed programs for the poor. And he says he’s forever grateful for the flexibility, encouragement and expertise of NIU faculty, particularly professors Wilkins and Thomas Smith.

We think Jeff in turn provides inspiration to all of us. Congratulations, Dr. Jeff Ware! We’re proud to call you an NIU alumnus.



Exercise Science Club to boost 2018 Abominable Snow Race

Tony Calderala

Tony Calderala

For people who find it fun to run a foot race up, over and down a snow-covered mountain in Wisconsin, here’s some good news: the annual Abominable Snow Race takes place Saturday.

“No Skis, No Dogs, No Sleds,” its Facebook page boldly proclaims. “This race is just you, 5 Snowy Miles, 20+ Obstacles, and the Abominable weather.”

Dubbed “The Midwest’s Premier Winter Obstacle Race,” the event beckons up to 2,700 runners of all stripes to the Grand Geneva Ski Resort to tap into their “inner Yeti.”

Members of NIU’s Exercise Science Club will join them.

Tony Calderala, an academic advisor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, has arranged for at least 12 students to volunteer at the Base Camp.

“We’re going to put some cool-down and warm-up things together to teach people who want to get better as athletes,” Calderala says. “We’ve designed a pegboard challenge for people to go up, over and down so we can, ‘How good of an athlete are you? What do you want to accomplish?’ We’ll also do a couple competitions on stage.”

Each volunteer will receive a free entry pass to the 2019 race, he adds.

asr-logoBut the more valuable rewards will come from the professional connections students can make in Lake Geneva as well as the behind-the-scenes look at the organization of a large sporting event.

“Some are looking for networking opportunities. Gym owners are there. Obstacle Course Racing is getting bigger, and now there are gyms dedicated to training people in Obstacle Course Racing,” Calderala says.

“A couple students are interested in the management side, wanting to see what it’s like to own and operate your own event,” he adds. “Others are interested in the sport itself, in learning about it, especially if they’ve never seen it for themselves.”

Calderala, who runs obstacle courses as a spare-time hobby, is making this happen through his acquaintance with Abominable Snow Race owner Bill Wolfe. He also is a former workout buddy with Tom Abraham, the course designer.

“I talked to Bill and said, ‘Do you want any help? I can bring some students,’ ” Calderala says. “Bill has been looking to work with a university here in northern Illinois or in southern Wisconsin to develop a partnership to expand this beyond the one race.”

Possibilities for the future included posting college students as “course marshals” who monitor the racers in the “elite” heats as they attempt to qualify for larger obstacle events, such as the Tough Mudder.

Students also can provide physical training on the course, demonstrate good form or offer encouragement in the way of cheering.



KNPE students lead fun, games at Brooks Elementary field day

brooks-parachuteCold winds blew across the Brooks Elementary School playground Halloween morning, but those chills couldn’t stop the fun of bowling soccer balls and poofy balls toward a 10-pin pumpkin or running relays around hay bales.

Within the warmth of the building, an orange-and-white parachute fluttered up and down, balls bouncing atop its bright stripes. On the other side of the wall, children quickly paced the length of the gym, trying not to spill spoons full of candy corns.

Elsewhere, they tossed beanbags through the mouth of a jack-o-lantern painted on a wooden board, ringed pumpkins with hula-hoops and played tic-tac-toe on the floor with gourds in place of X’s and O’s.

Fall Field Day 2017 offered more than fun, games, laughter and cheers, however.

It also provided a hands-on learning experience for two dozen NIU Physical Education majors in their first or second semester and still awaiting official admittance.

Paired with kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders in the morning, and third- through fifth-graders in the afternoon, NIU’s students demonstrated, facilitated, cheered and, in some cases, even participated in the games and activities.

brooks-spoonAt day’s end, after also eating lunch with the children and attending their recess periods, they walked away with the kind of first-hand understanding of their future careers that no textbook can describe.

“It’s just so important that they get into a school and immerse themselves,” says Laurie Zittel, a professor of Adapted Physical Activity in the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KNPE).

“We want them to see the diversity at the school,” Zittel adds. “We want them to be able to witness positive things. We want them to witness challenging things relative to behavior. We want them, as young professionals, learning how to work with a group of students and how to manage a group of students.”

Brooke Condon, principal of Brooks Elementary, tallied benefits on both sides.

“It’s great to get the NIU students out in the school and really experience what the school day looks like,” Condon says, “and it’s really cool just to watch how our kids respond. We have a lot of students who’ve never had experiences like these before, and they’ve made connections with the NIU students.”

Home to 320 students, Brooks hosts monthly, all-school PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) celebrations that build community and acknowledge successes. The school also collaborates frequently with KNPE, which underscores the teaching of social skills through physical education.

Victoria Newport, president of the District 428 Board of Education, visited Brooks that morning to observe the interaction.

“For NIU students to come in and work with our students is valuable for both sides of the partnership. It’s very positive,” Newport says. “This is giving the NIU students an opportunity for hands-on, practical experience as teachers, and it’s giving our kids the opportunity to identify with another adult in the building.”

brooks-pumpkinNewport was eager to share what she saw Halloween morning with her colleagues on the school board, something that reinforces the strong collaboration between District 428 and the NIU College of Education.

“It’s important for me, as school board president, to get out and see what’s happening in our buildings,” she says, “and to support our staff in whatever they want to accomplish.”

Jamie Craven, superintendent of District 428, calls the day a “win-win.”

“I saw a lot of kids laughing. I saw a lot of kids clearly enjoying the experience – and when I say kids, the NIU kids are kids to me because I have kids that age, so it’s wasn’t just the Brooks kids, it was the NIU kids, too,” Craven says.

“From the NIU student side, I think it’s a great opportunity for them to see what goes on at schools, well beyond the classroom, that these kinds of celebrations are just different learning opportunities,” he adds. “Our kids got to interact with different young adults who were bringing a different level of enthusiasm and a different level of engagement with the activities.”

Laurie Zittel

Laurie Zittel

Zittel is pleased that her students earned the respect of the District 428 leadership: She had prepared them in “understanding the importance of professionalism.”

“I told them, ‘You’re now a representative of NIU. You’re in a public school with teachers, principals, secretaries, custodians, administrative people from the school district, parents, teaching assistants,” she says.

The professor was pleased with their performance as well.

“Watching my students just collapse on the floor in exhaustion was hilarious,” she says. “It was a full day of activity, but they were all very happy that we did it. They got a lot out of it.”



Physical Ed majors provide ‘structured recess’ programming for Brooks Elementary children

Zach Wahl-Alexander

Zach Wahl-Alexander

Recess is fun and games at most elementary school students, but it’s not always without problems.

For one, it’s often lightly supervised. And, says Zach Wahl-Alexander, professor of Physical Education, it’s likely parent-volunteers and not teachers who are in charge.

Meanwhile, Wahl-Alexander adds, small misunderstandings between children can quickly escalate into physical conflict.

But at schools such as DeKalb’s Brooks Elementary, that time on the playground is constructive thanks to the concept of “structured recess.” And it’s NIU Physical Education majors who are making that happen.

“Our students get there around 1 o’clock with some stuff planned to implement a physical activity,” Wahl-Alexander says. “They teach different games and activities the kids can do, they also try to promote some positive, affective behaviors.”

Part of the engaged curriculum for KNPE 344: Elementary School Physical Education/ Methods and Field Experience, the hands-on leadership of structured recess “gives our students the opportunity to be around kids, to build their skills and to build rapport.”

Students in that course also are getting a first taste of teaching physical education lessons to first- and third-grade students at DeKalb’s Jefferson Elementary School.

But at Brooks, the half-dozen Huskies who visit for recess are getting the opportunity to create organized activities outside the academic environment – and it’s thanks to their professor’s willingness and ability to modify the course curriculum.

“The teachers and administrators at Brooks reported an increasing number of students needing support in the area of social-emotional learning,” says Jennifer Johnson, director of Teacher Preparation and Development in the College of Education.

brooks-sign“In response to this need, Zach redesigned his field experience model to provide Physical Education teacher candidates opportunities to engage with Brooks Elementary students during their recess time,” Johnson adds. “This model allows elementary students and NIU candidates to focus on relationships, cooperation, motivation, goals and outcomes in an authentic and developmentally appropriate space. “

And it’s flourishing.

“Teachers have reported seeing the transfer of these skills from the playground to the classroom,” Johnson says. “This dynamic field experience model is an example of innovative practice, designed to meet the identified needs of our partner district while providing our candidates an enriched hands-on teaching experience.”

Members of the District 428 site council, which supports the partnership between NIU and the local schools, are in agreement: They recently cited the model of this field experience course as exemplary in responding to the needs of elementary students.

Even though the children are not required to participate, NIU students will encourage them to join in the fun – especially if the children are lingering off to the side or alone.

Games include baseball, three-on-three basketball (or just shooting baskets), capture the flag, tag, soccer, relay races, hopscotch, foursquare and even obstacle courses on the jungle gym.

“The feedback from our preservice teachers is that it’s highly enjoyable for them. They’re learning how to be around kids,” Wahl-Alexander says. “In our Physical Education program, we constantly reinforce concepts of behavior management, feedback, effective demonstrations, pedagogy – with this we’re saying, ‘Just go out there, play with the kids and have some fun.’ I’m not looking over their shoulders.”

Children at Brooks, meanwhile, are receiving multiple benefits.

hopscotch“From a physical activity standpoint, the more structure that’s there to recess, and the more activities they have access to, the more active they’re going to be,” the professor says.

“From an interpersonal standpoint, their teachers are trying to get them to deal with conflict in other ways than yelling or hitting or just storming off,” he adds.

“What we’re trying to do – because conflict is going to come up – is to say, ‘OK, there’s a little dispute. Let’s figure it out, and let’s get back to the game.’ If they don’t learn that from school or from their parents, they’re not magically going to learn those strategies. Play, and especially structured play, offers an opportunity to learn those skills, and might help them with their relationships down the road.”



And now … Sport Management grad students sell Chicago Bulls ticket packages for class project

Katie Reifurth

Katie Reifurth

Students in an NIU College of Education graduate class in Sport Management are asking an unusual question this semester.

Wanna buy some Bulls tickets?

The class, LESM 551, teaches the practice, strategies and art of ticket sales in the sports industry.

And if part of sales is who you know, or the ability to convince hesitant buyers to say “yes,” then Katie Reifurth is the perfect instructor. Her fiancé, Anthony Horton, works for the Chicago Bulls.

“I said, ‘I’m teaching a ticket sales class. Would there be any potential to have us partner with your sales department?’ ” says Reifurth, an instructor in NIU’s Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

“He was skeptical at first because the Bulls have never partnered with a college program before,” she adds. “I tried to sell him on the idea that I could give him the opportunity to feel out potential future employees, to get to know the caliber of our students and how they sell.”

Horton, who manages Inside Sales for the Bulls, soon liked what he heard. He then pitched the concept to his boss, but initially was met with similar reluctance.

Undeterred, he also forged ahead in making the case that giving students hands-on experience in selling for a powerful brand would allow the Bulls to continuously find and hire local talent.

Swish!

The Bulls have created two unique ticket packages for Reifurth’s students. One includes a Celtics game in December and a Cavaliers game in March; the other includes a Knicks game in December and a Clippers game in March.

Packages are perfect for individuals, friends, date nights or group outings, Reifurth says.

bulls-logo“I pushed to get one of the games in each package to be a high-profile game and have at least one game on a weekend so the students would have a better chance to sell the tickets,” she says. “If people buy from our students, they get a deep discount they couldn’t get on the secondary market.”

She began the class project by allowing students to sell the tickets in any way they wanted, which could include to their personal contacts on social media.

“We know as salespeople, and through the class, that this is very ineffective,” she says, “but it gives the students some hands-on experience with a little bit of failure. They need to be actively selling and using their skills as a seller. They learn to fail, and then they learn to succeed through sales tactics they’re learning in the class.”

Chicago Bulls ticket packages provide an additional lesson, she adds.

“I want my students to understand that selling really does take skills, even selling for a large and popular brand like the Chicago Bulls,” Reifurth says. “I hope they will have a new appreciation for sales, not just how difficult it is but also that it’s not something that comes naturally. People who are in it have to work hard.”

Final sales reports are due Dec. 4.

“They’ll make a presentation, just to me, summarizing all of the things they did in the project, telling me about the sales tactics they used, the number of tickets they sold and what they learned,” she says.

Sales managers at the Bulls “will get a write-up more on the basics of the numbers so they will know what contribution was made by whom and through which package,” she adds. “They will know who has the talent to possibly move into this industry.”

Reifurth, who is new to NIU this semester, is currently completing the dissertation phase of her Ph.D. in Sport and Entertainment Management from the University of South Carolina.

basketballA former intern for the San Antonio Spurs, she moved to Chicago to join Horton – and smartly placed a call to NIU in search of work as an instructor.

When she completes her Ph.D. in 2018, she hopes to continue teaching in higher education while keeping her professional contacts current and vibrant through consulting, an endeavor that will benefit her students.

“More schools and more programs need to focus on selling because that’s where most of the entry-level positions are in sports. It’s better to know the basics than going into these jobs not knowing anything,” Reifurth says.

NIU students have impressed her, partly because her previous experience has taught her that “a sales class is not something a lot of people want to do. It’s just a class they have to take.”

“The NIU students are very engaged, and I’m happy to see that. They’re very open to the possibility of working in sales, and they see the value in that right off the bat,” she says. “They’re also very excited about this project, which I’m excited about. Having passion for what you’re selling just makes it that much easier to do it.”