Furman University, Health and Exercise Science Department
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Furman University, Health and Exercise Science Department

By Dr. William Pierce, Chair and Professor

Founded in 1826, Furman University is an independent, coeducational, liberal arts college of 2,600 students located just north of Greenville, South Carolina. Furman’s primary mission is to provide a distinctive undergraduate education encompassing the humanities, fine arts, social sciences, mathematics and the natural sciences.

The Health and Exercise Science (HES) department has an integral and important role in helping the university achieve its purpose of developing the whole person – intellectually, physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.

The HES department identifies three goals to satisfy its purpose as an academic unit. These goals are compatible with the university’s mission of liberally educating students.

1. To promote current and lifelong personal wellness and physical activity among faculty, staff and students.
The department is responsible for developing and overseeing the Physical Activities Center, currently undergoing an $8.5M renovation. The Center, with its cardio and resistance training areas, pool, gym and dance studio, is one of the most visited places on campus. The department offers group exercise classes and conducts an employee wellness program.

2. To provide a general education course which leads students to understand the consequences of lifestyle habits on their well-being.
The Health and Exercise Science Department’s Wellness Concepts course, a general education course required of all students at Furman, is designed to contribute to the institution’s mission of developing the whole person. The four-credit course focuses on helping students to understand the consequences of lifestyle habits and how the choices they make will affect their well-being. Students often report that the course was the most influential of any in their undergraduate education.

3. To provide a major which promotes broad inquiry in the discipline consistent with Furman’s liberal arts philosophy.
The department offers bachelor’s of arts and bachelor’s of science degrees. Over the past 12 years, HES has been one of the most popular majors at Furman, graduating an average of 46 majors per year. Most of the graduates pursue graduate and professional studies leading to careers as physicians, physician assistants, physical therapists, occupational therapists, exercise physiologists, wellness and fitness directors, health administrators, nutritionists, and teachers and coaches. More than 70 percent of health and exercise science graduates earn advanced degrees. The HES senior class typically is well represented in Phi Beta Kappa, Who’s Who, and ODK.

The HES department’s Molnar Human Performance Laboratory is a 2400-square-foot facility used for teaching and research. Students and faculty conduct a wide range of fitness-related research. The lab is equipped with three automated metabolic systems; two of those are carts and the third unit is a portable system, which may be used to study activities outside the typical lab setting. Body composition is determined with a completely automated hydrostatic weighing system. Gait analysis is accomplished using an 8-camera digital system that is integrated with a force plate and EMG system.

Furman prides itself on its focus on internships, independent study and research programs. More than 90% of all Health and Exercise Science majors take part in one of these engaged learning experiences. These opportunities have consistently led to student presentations at the National Collegiate Undergraduate Research Conference and at the conventions of the South Carolina Alliance for Health and Physical Education, Southeast American College of Sports Medicine and American Public Health Association. Any major who has an interest in research can have the opportunity to be a part of a research project.

Through internships HES students get on-the-job training, test career choices and apply what they learn in classes to real-world situations in a variety of health, fitness, wellness, medical and sport businesses and organizations. Internship sites in the Greater Greenville area include hospitals, medical clinics, fitness centers, corporations with employee wellness programs, public health centers, collegiate athletics departments and professional sports teams.

The Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) (www.furmanfirst.com), a part of Furman’s HES Department, was established in 2003 to provide scientific and training-tested information to runners of all ages and abilities to help them realize their potential through individually tailored training programs. In the past year, FIRST has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, Runner’s World and a host of other newspapers from around the world. FIRST recently published one of the most popular running books – Runner’s World Run Less, Run Faster (Rodale, 2007) – on the market. The book is based on research conducted in the department’s Institute.

The departmental faculty is composed of 10 members with doctoral degrees and two with master’s degrees. Faculty members are actively involved in conducting research, collaborating in student research, publishing journal articles and books, making presentations at professional meetings, such as the American College of Sports Medicine and American Public Health Association, along with other societies and organizations. The faculty is an integral part of community health initiatives and partners with the YMCA and the local hospital to offer a statewide, year-round healthy living awareness program.