Tag: Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education

Start your engines: Engage U.S. transports Sport Management grad students to Indianapolis

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The trip begins!

First-year graduate students in Sport Management magnified their credentials this month with a behind-the-scenes look at operations of the NCAA, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Purdue University’s athletic and recreational sport facilities.

Part of the NIU College of Education’s Engage U.S. program, the overnight trip to the Hoosier State came together through professional associates of Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education faculty Steve Howell and Claire Schaeperkoetter.

Both professors in Sport Management believe that the hands-on learning sets NIU apart from its competitors and offers a strong marketing point for recruitment.

“We want to provide some industry insights to the overall learning experiences of our students,” says Howell, an associate professor and director of Graduate Studies for the department.

“Given that Indianapolis isn’t far from NIU, and Claire’s connections at the NCAA, and my relationships with various folks at Purdue University, we thought it would be a good fit,” he adds. “These applied and practical sides of the sport management industry are nice complements to what students learn in the classroom.”

Steve Howell and Claire Schaeperkoetter

Steve Howell and Claire Schaeperkoetter

Schaeperkoetter, who Howell says was “instrumental in organizing the nuts and bolts of the trip itinerary,” chose Indianapolis for its proximity to DeKalb and its vibrant cluster of collegiate and professional sport venues.

“Any sort of undergraduate or graduate program is looking for ways to provide unique experiences to their students,” says Schaeperkoetter, an assistant professor. “It’s good for students to hear industry professionals reiterate a lot of the concepts we talk about in class. It really adds that practical component. They can have those light bulb moments and connect the dots.”

The first stop on the trip, which took place April 19 and 20, was the NCAA headquarters.

NCAA staff conducted three panel discussions covering such topics as finance, marketing, compliance, championships and ticket sales. Students asked questions – “How did you get to where are you now?” – and heard valuable tips for success.

indy-6During a subsequent tour of the NCAA facility and its Hall of Champions, the students were able to learn more about the storied history of the college sports organization while they exchanged business cards with their hosts.

Enhanced networking took place that evening when NIU’s group gathered at a local restaurant for dinner with NCAA employees, some of whom had not participated in the panel discussions.

“Our students were able to chat with people from industry,” Schaeperkoetter says, “and pick their brains a little bit about their own career experiences, how they got their feet in the door and climbed the proverbial ladder.”

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Friday morning began at the legendary Speedway.

“We toured the race track, got a historical overview of the facility, got a better understanding of some of the operational aspects and heard about what goes into hosting the races – the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400,” Howell says. “We also got a nice tour of their museum.”

Riding on a bus around the rectangular oval, the NIU travelers also began to understand “just how many people are able to fit in the stands,” Schaeperkoetter adds. “You think that a major football stadium maybe seats 100,000. They can fit three to four times that. When you think about the management of that, the sponsorship opportunities, the logistics – it’s really interesting.”

indy-9The last stop came at Purdue, where Howell earned all three of his degrees, served as a graduate assistant at the France A. Córdova Recreational Sports Center and interned in the Athletics Department.

NIU’s group toured Mackey Arena as well as the Rec Center, which was “transformed” in 2012 with nearly $100 million of renovations and expansions. “It’s one of the best rec centers in the country,” Schaeperkoetter says. “We took a tour for an hour, maybe an hour-and-a-half, and, honestly, we could’ve spent three hours on that tour. That’s how big it is.”

Back in DeKalb, students expressed their gratitude for the opportunity and their willingness to promote the value of Engage U.S. experiences to next year’s first-year grad students in Sport Management.

Schaeperkoetter and Howell, meanwhile, are pleased with the results of their maiden voyage.

“It opened our students’ eyes to even more opportunities in the field of Sport Management. I can’t tell you how many students came up to me and said, ‘I hadn’t even thought about that as an opportunity,’ ” Schaeperkoetter says. “This kind of real-world experience, outside of our dynamic classes, just adds another piece to the grad school puzzle.”

Howell enjoyed watching the students interact outside of their Anderson Hall classroom.

“They really enjoyed not only the learning component of this but the opportunity to network and the opportunity to bounce ideas of each other,” he says. “We’re already very excited to start organizing our trip for next year.”

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When in Indy … NIU’s travelers join in the tradition of “kissing the bricks,”
started by NASCAR champion Dale Jarrett after his Brickyard 400 victory in 1996.



Sit or stand? SCOPE research examines sedentary behaviors of older adults at Oak Crest

Marianne Sackett, a resident of Oak Crest, participates in the SCOPE test under the direction of NIU graduate student Josh Pak.

Marianne Sackett, a resident of Oak Crest, participates in the SCOPE test under the direction of NIU graduate student Josh Pak.

Excessive sitting, some say, is the new smoking – in other words, something that insidiously contributes to shortening a lifespan.

Indeed, says Emerson Sebastião, a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, at least one decade of research into physical activity behavior shows that “sitting too much is going to be detrimental to your health.”

But what does that mean for elderly people who live in nursing homes or retirement communities, where very little time is spent standing or moving?

Little scholarship on this matter exists on that population, Sebastião says, who are different from their counterparts still living at home in their communities.

“Physical activity is reduced drastically, and the amount of time spent sitting is higher,” Sebastião says. “Someone is going to cook for you. Someone is going to clean for you. Someone is going to do your laundry.”

Residents of DeKalb’s Oak Crest Retirement Center are participating in Sebastião’s current research project to help him understand how sitting impacts their lives and what “interventions” he can develop or suggest to get residents to sit less and move more.

Called “SCOPE” (Sedentary Behavior, COgnition and Physical Function in OldEr Adults Living in a Retirement Community), his work examines how sitting affects not only the physical fitness of the Oak Crest residents but their mental fitness as well.

Tests for physical fitness gauge upper- and lower-body strength, record how many steps they can take in two minutes, county how many times they can stand up from a chair in 30 seconds, assess their gait while walking a straight line for a certain distance and pivoting for a return and how far measure they can lean ahead without losing their balance.

Emerson Sebastião

Emerson Sebastião

Speed is a critical factor, Sebastião says: People who walk quicker live longer.

Cognition, on the other hand, is evaluated through verbal and visual memory skills. Sebastião recites 16 words to the test subjects and asks to hear them repeated back to him in any order.

Declining memory is something Sebastião understands personally through interactions with his late grandmother. “I would say to her, ‘Grandma, you need to buy your groceries. Grandma, you need to pay your bills. Grandma, you need to clean room.’ ”

When he completes his study – he’s hoping to examine 100 people, and is about three-quarters of the way there – he will have valuable data for the next step.

“I’m trying to establish a connection between scores on these tests and the amount of time residents spend sitting,” he says. “We don’t have any recommendations on how long people should spending sitting to protect them from adverse health outcomes. We don’t have such a thing for older adults.”

Possible “interventions” to help those in need include wearing Fitbits or similar devices that track footsteps, standing or walking around the living room during TV commercials, engaging in exercise that improves cardiorespiratory or muscle fitness or seeking counseling to help them understand the importance of moving more and sitting less.

scope-2Unfortunately, he says, much of physical activity behavior or the lack of it is most likely predetermined by personal habits earlier in life.

Human beings who are physically active and fit in their younger years “are building up a savings account. Their rate of slowing down as they grow older is slower,” Sebastião says. “Those who are active at a young age are more likely to be active in older age.”

Sebastião, who studies elderly and clinical populations by exploring factors that influence physical activity as well as creative ways to promote physical activity among older adults, received a six-month Dean’s Research Grant to conduct his work at Oak Crest.

Two graduate students and one undergraduate student are assisting him.

All will write their own papers; they also will combine to pen a group paper, with Sebastião as lead author, for submission to journals on gerontology and geriatrics. The undergraduate student, meanwhile, will present at the College of Education’s Third Annual Student Research Symposium, scheduled for Friday, April 20.

scope-3“My students are learning important elements within the research process – how to design a study, how to select instruments for data collection, how to collect data,” he says. “They’re also learning how to talk with our participants throughout the testing to provide motivation.”

Josh Pak, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology, is enjoying his chance to work with the senior citizens.

He believes that his collaboration with Sebastião will equip him well in his eventual career, in which he plans to work with elderly adults on cardiac rehabilitation.

“Some have no idea of how to go about fitness. A lot of them just go around their apartments,” says Pak, who is from Arlington Heights, “but a lot of them surprise me with how much they can do. A lot of them love to be active.”



KNPE reserves grad program spots for NIU Honors students

honor-programHonors students at NIU now can gain direct and guaranteed admission into most of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education’s graduate programs.

Reserved seats are available in the department’s M.S.Ed. in Kinesiology and Physical Education and M.S. in Sport Management degrees. The upcoming master’s program in Athletic Training, which involves a strict vetting process and a specific set of prerequisite courses for admission, is not part of the deal.

Although it’s assumed that students interested in careers related to fitness, human performance or sports are most likely to take advantage of the new benefit, Honors students graduating from any bachelor’s program are welcome.

Todd Gilson, director of the Honors Program, believes that this agreement and the two others like it will position his students for productive futures.

Todd Gilson

Todd Gilson

Chad McEvoy and Steve Howell reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, we heard what you started with Political Science, and we’d really like to get in on that as well,” says Gilson, who also is on the faculty of KNPE.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Gilson adds. “Honors students can come to NIU, work on their University Honors requirements and know that when they want to advance their career – to take that next step – that it’s already locked in for them. The department then can get that better quality of students.”

Howell, associate professor of Sport Management and director of Graduate Studies, says that he and McEvoy, chair of the department, are eager to harness such potential.

“We thought it would be a good idea to incentivize Honors students to attract high-quality, top-notch students into our master’s programs,” Howell says.

“And this is not only to attract those highly qualified students but freshmen and sophomores who are looking ahead a couple years and seeing that automatic feed,” he adds. “More students need to look into these avenues as they want to make themselves marketable.”

NIU’s M.S.Ed. in Kinesiology and Physical Education prepares students to work in the exercise science or Physical Education-Teacher Education communities. Specialties are offered in Adapted Physical Education; Exercise Physiology and Fitness Leadership; Pedagogy and Curriculum Development; and Sport and Exercise Psychology.

The M.S. in Sport Management equips graduates for a variety of careers, including professional sports, college athletics, campus recreation and parks departments.

Chad McEvoy and Steve Howell

Chad McEvoy and Steve Howell

Honors students who pursue these degrees through the direct admissions program will become pioneers of sorts, Gilson says.

“It’s very uncommon,” he says. “We (Honors) have benchmarked 131 institutions – peer institutions to NIU, a lot of the flagship schools, directional state schools – and only two offer programs like this. I think it says that we’re thinking forward.”

Gilson also hopes that Honors students realize what an advantage the program offers.

“College degrees become harder to acquire as adult life begins, but when you’re still a student and you know how to do it, go and do it,” he adds. “This is not for your first job, but for your third job.”

Interested students are encouraged to contact their Honors advisors or the KNPE department at knpe@niu.edu.



KNPE inks transfer agreement with Rock Valley for Kinesiology

rvcRockford-area students with plans to major in Kinesiology now have another option toward NIU Student Career Success.

NIU’s Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education has signed a “2+2” agreement with Rock Valley College to provide a smooth transition between its associate degree and our bachelor’s degree.

The agreement helps students to identify relevant and recommended RVC coursework that transfers to NIU.

Future Huskies must complete the Exercise Science option of Rock Valley’s A.A.S. degree in Fitness, Wellness and Sport; with the 2+2 agreement, they are able to earn their NIU bachelor’s degrees within two years.

Chad McEvoy, chair of the NIU department, said that he and his colleagues at both schools saw not only a pressing need but also an exciting opportunity to provide a strong and comprehensive academic experience.

Chad McEvoy

Chad McEvoy

“More students than ever before are choosing to attend community colleges,” McEvoy said.

“But when community college graduates explore how to continue their higher education at a four-year institution, a major challenge is finding a program that will allow them to count their full two years of community college work toward the four-year bachelor’s degree,” he added. “Our partnership delivers a seamless transition.”

Shaine Henert, professor and chair of the RVC Department of Fitness, Wellness and Sport, said he and his Rock Valley colleagues were motivated by two factors.

“We connected with NIU for the high quality of education we think students will receive, not only at NIU in general but in the Exercise Science program, and we wanted to provide a local option. NIU has a well-established and well-respected program,” Henert said.

“Our students who complete the two-year program are essentially completing the first two years of NIU’s four-year program,” he added, “and when they transfer, this will help them complete the four-year degree in four years.”

Meanwhile, Henert said, the 2+2 makes financial sense for his students.

“Bachelor’s degrees definitely increase their earning potential,” he said. “The majority of our students want to continue on. They understand that with a two-year degree, they’re looking at entry-level positions. With a four-year degree, they have a substantially higher median salary.”

Courses taken at Rock Valley include communication; composition; statistics; life science; anatomy and physiology; biochemistry; psychology; sociology of sport; sport and exercise psychology; exercise and sport science; nutrition for fitness and sport; and nutrition, exercise and weight control.

Shaine Henert

Shaine Henert

At NIU, Rock Valley graduates who transfer their credits will enter the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education ready for 300-level courses in the Kinesiology major.

Kinesiology majors explore scientific principles that regulate behavior change and performance, such as physiology, biomechanics, psychology, measurement, gerontology and nutrition, while they engage in a variety of clinical experiences and an industry-related internship.

Graduates are equipped to work in a variety of health, wellness and sport performance settings. Students also can prepare for graduate school in exercise physiology, physical therapy, athletic training and sport and exercise psychology

The kinesiology major received the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Education Recognition Program award for meeting established criteria in strength and conditioning.

For more information, call (815) 753-8285 or email wharris3@niu.edu.



Sports Diplomacy course scores with great timing, conversations

Paul Wright

Paul Wright

Paul Wright has no problem stirring a lively conversation.

Not only is NIU’s EC Lane and MN Zimmerman Endowed Professor in Kinesiology and Physical Education a deft moderator, but the students in his KNPE 399: Sport and Diplomacy course are Honors Program students.

They’re opinionated, they’re smart and they want to talk.

Beyond that, the topic of the day Feb. 12 is a hot one: South Korea, North Korea and the Olympics.

During that class meeting just a few days after the torch roared to life to start the winter games, the discussion of possible reunification crackles with different opinions.

Alexandra Zdunek deems the Olympic-borne olive branches between the Koreas nothing but a publicity stunt perpetrated by the North. As the TV cameras gradually disappear, she says, so will the sudden show of cordiality that stunned the world.

“I don’t think reunification would be possible under this regime,” says the senior Political Science major from Crystal Lake, who plans to become a lawyer. “As soon as North Korea gets what it wants, they will pull out.”

Others in the NIU Honors course, having just watched the Korean athletes march together under a unified flag in the opening ceremonies, aren’t so sure.

unified-flagFundamental pride of nation, one classmate says, will begin “to win out” thanks to athletes from both Koreas competing together as teammates. Inspired by that solidarity, the student says, they will “drop the small stuff and go for it.”

Gestures of unity “really match the ideals of the Olympics,” another offers, talking of countries building bridges of cultural exchange in celebration of human potential and human performance.

Maybe the recreational aspects of sports and the “safe space of competition” would give Korean athletes from both sides of the demilitarized zone a good excuse not to talk policy or politics, another suggests.

Standing aside to let the conversation flow, Wright loves it all.

“What I really like about working with this group of students is that because they are confident about putting their thoughts out there, we are getting a range of opinions,” he says. “The rightness or wrongness of their answers is inconsequential. We’re having a good, rich discussion.”

January’s out-of-nowhere goodwill between the Koreas came as “a welcome surprise,” he says. He had developed the curriculum months earlier.

“That was serendipitous. We had no idea what was about to start brewing,” Wright says, “but this course is a natural extension of what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years. It’s sort of a progression in my scholarship. I have a solid grounding in, and a long history of, using sport for positive youth development.”

Students in Wright’s class come from several majors – none in the College of Education – that include Accountancy, Electrical Engineering, History, Marketing and Political Science.

Their textbook, the newly published “Case Studies in Sport Diplomacy,” includes a chapter Wright wrote on his three-year (2013-16) project in Belize. It also examines similar work in Brazil, Central America, China, Haiti, Iran, New Zealand, Russia, South Sudan and, appropriately, Korea.

Class sessions are filled with history lessons.

o-ringsLaying the groundwork to make sense of the current Korean situation began with a look 5,000 years in the past, tracing through the “Three Kingdoms” period of Korean history and centuries of interference or rule from China and Japan. The time of Japanese Colonial Rule, from 1910 to 1945, ended with World War II.

Wright then outlines the events that precipitated the Korean War and the various stages of its aftermath, including the three-decade struggle over communism and democracy and the decade of “co-existence” following the 1987 end of the Cold War.

Engagement began to improve in 1998, stopping in 2008 as North Korea found its footing and started to grow in power as it no longer found itself desperate for cooperation or help.

A decade later, the North is driven to acquire, keep and assert power – military, economic and political – while the South adheres to democracy and positive relations with other countries.

The Olympics have made ripples in the past, Wright says, but none like 2018, which “seems on track to be a vastly different story.”

Unification was planned for the 1960 games in Rome, for example, but the North abandoned those talks when the International Olympic Committee recognized both countries. When Seoul hosted the games in 1988, North Korea boycotted.

Despite those misses, he adds, a certain set of statistics reveals an interesting picture.

case-studiesEighty-five percent of the 55 socio-cultural exchanges between the Koreas between 1971 and 2017 involved sports. This includes unified teams for the 1990 Beijing Asian Games and the 1991 FIFA World Cup in Portugal.

“I am a lover of history, and I feel comfortable talking about those issues and my own curiosities and interests,” Wright says. “In much of the work I do with education, curriculum and schooling – that is my field – there are many things you can’t understand without first understanding the historical context: What shaped our school system? What was going on at the time?”

Building on the Olympics, he asked provocative questions during the games.

Do you think North Korean athletes will try to defect? If so, how do you think North Korea will go after them? What kind of “welcome home” will North Korean athletes receive if they fail to medal? How does the presence U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s sister play into all of this?

He’s also assigned students to watch sport-related movies, report to the class on what they saw and give the films a rating of “gold thumb, silver thumb or bronze thumb.”

“I try to mix things up a bit, have some fun,” Wright says. “We’re lucky to have several more weeks in this class to follow up on the Olympics: After all he bluster and all the drama is done regarding North and South Korea, what do we see sticking? Does the momentum fade and die? Does it take on new life?”

Students are gaining ideas of how the notion of diplomacy through sports can empower their future careers.

Maria Fracassi, a senior with a major in Marketing, calls Wright’s course “interesting.”

football-fansAlthough she considers herself a “mediocre sports fan – I watch when it’s exciting,” she knows that capitalizing on the universal affinity for sports can help to build the business relationships that she will depend on as a marketer.

“I never thought much about how sports can unify people,” Fracassi says. “I enjoy the conversations.”

Zakyrah Harris, a junior studying Political Science and Philosophy, enrolled in Wright’s class because of her interest in the Colin Kaepernick-led NFL protests.

Before Kaepernick and his followers began kneeling during the national anthem, Harris says, she believed that sports always brought fans together. Now she’s surprised to learn that sports can cause military conflict, such as the “Hundred Hour War” between Honduras and El Salvador “over something as small as a soccer game.”

“Dr. Wright is an amazing professor. He makes each class interesting,” she says. “He shows you how sports can bridge gaps and how different countries are able to come together politically or completely destroy each other.”

Zdunek agrees.

“He is really good at getting us engaged, especially when we’re all different majors,” she says. “He is very knowledgeable, and he wants to understand how we can use sport to better each other’s lives. That is such a big care for him.”

Wright is enjoying the class as much as his students.

“They’re really bringing in their different disciplines, and it’s fun to see what they’re being trained in. They’re talking about social issues around race, such as Brown v. Board of Education. They’re seeing connections to other courses they’re in that aren’t normally in our conversation about sport,” he says.

“I’m really pushing them to see behind every one of these stories and case studies we look at, to understand the motivation of the people we’re talking about, to connect the dots, to see what’s driving them,” he adds. “If you understand those things in the background, you can practice critical thinking and look behind the obvious. I’m sure they can apply that in every one of their different disciplines going forward.”



Like father, like son: P.E. proves perfect major for Maveus family

Jeff Maveus

Jeff Maveus

Jeff Maveus had spent his professional years at DeKalb Genetics, feeling secure and content in his position with the Corporate Services Department.

That changed when Monsanto purchased the company in 1998. “I knew it was just a matter of time before I wasn’t going to have a job,” says Maveus, who lives in Cortland.

Pondering his next step, he discovered that it no longer lie in Corporate America but in a school gymnasium.

“I had played a lot of sports in high school. Coaching was something I had a passion for. My mom had a daycare for 30 years, and I had always been around kids. I had worked at camps,” he says. “I wanted to teach.”

Enrolling in the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Maveus earned his bachelor’s degree in Physical Education in the fall of 2005. For the last 13 years, he has taught P.E. – the first eight years of those in an elementary school, and for the last five years, to sixth- through eighth-graders at Harter Middle School in Kaneland.

Now his son, Tyler, is following in those footsteps.

“My dad, for sure, was one of my biggest inspirations,” says Tyler, a 19-year-old sophomore at NIU who was a four-sport athlete at Sycamore High School.

“Hearing him come home and talk about how it’s a rewarding profession, and all the fun he has at work, just really made me want to get into it,” he adds. “I like the environment. I like the atmosphere of always being active. I like being able to have fun with kids, to help them learn and grow. I like the overall satisfaction of helping others.”

Dad understands why.

“What I love about teaching P.E. in middle school is that I love that age,” Jeff says. “The kids are learning how to lead healthier lifestyle and to make some good decisions in their lives. I’m teaching them about lifelong fitness; a lot of kids think that lifelong fitness is just a sport. They don’t know that more is involved, and I like to provide that knowledge, to be that role model.”

Tyler Maveus

Tyler Maveus

Sure enough, Tyler is also aiming toward a career in a middle school.

“At that point in their lives, they’re starting to become more independent, but it’s not like high school, when they’re starting to not participate as much,” he says. “Middle school can be a real rough experience for some kids, and I want to be sure to help them. I really enjoyed P.E. growing up – I had good experiences – and I want to make sure I give students that same experience. I want to be a role model, and someone my students can look up to.”

Being in the same profession – and, for now, the same house – is also providing a new camaraderie between the two.

Following an early clinical experience at DeKalb’s Huntley Middle School last semester, and part of a current assessment-related clinical at Brooks Elementary School, Tyler is getting his feet wet.

Naturally, he’s got questions and observations.

“It’s just nice to have my dad in my back pocket as a resource,” Tyler says, “like if I need help with an assignment late at night, he’s there. I can run warmup ideas by him, things to change, things to do differently, things that worked well, things I should be doing.

“My wife is just loving this. She thinks it’s great that we sit there and compare notes,” Jeff says.

Like Tyler, he enjoys the family room conversations.

“It’s really cool to not only talk to him about where the program is at NIU – it’s changed since I was there – but it’s really cool to have your son, when you’re watching a basketball game at night, turn to you and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a couple warmups I’d like to run past you,’ ” he says.

gym-balls“We talk about professors. We talk about how you bounce ideas off of other teachers, that you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel, that that’s how you get better,” he adds. “Tyler wants to be the best. It’s just fun.”

Both offer high praise for the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

“One of the top programs in the nation!” Jeff exclaims. “I’m so thankful that I went through the P.E. department at NIU. Every step NIU had through the progression was phenomenal – early childhood, clinicals, student-teaching – and the best experience I could ever have. It was all the classes I needed, and 10 years later, something I never thought I would use, I’m using now.”

KNPE professors – he singles out Connie Fox, Clersida and Luis Garcia and Jenny Parker – were motivational and committed to teaching “the do’s and don’ts.”

Tyler, who starts student-teaching in the fall of 2019, is enjoying KNPE’s cohort model.

“We move through the program together, which is really nice because I can grow and become good friends with the other students,” he says. “Also, I’m learning that you can only be so prepared from the classroom. NIU does a really good job of immersing us in the schools, and getting us that experience. There’s no better way to learn than experience, and you can only follow the book so much when you’re out in the field.”

Perhaps their strongest endorsement, however, comes from Jeff’s perpetual welcome mat for NIU student-teachers in his gymnasium.

“I had two cooperating teachers who were phenomenal. They really helped me to finish that final step I had to take, and it’s not an easy step. There are a lot of things you have to learn while you’re student-teaching,” he says. “I remember how important it was to me to have someone good to work with – someone to learn from – and I want to be that person. That’s definitely what I’m here for.”



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.”



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.