Michigan Technological University, Dept. of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology
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Michigan Technological University, Dept. of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology

by Jason Carter, Professor and Chair


In 1885, the University was founded as the Michigan Mining School with four faculty specialized in mining engineering. By 1935 it became known as the Michigan College of Mining and Technology, and in 1964 the name was officially changed to Michigan Technological University. Today, Michigan Tech is a vibrant research university consistently ranked in the top 60 public universities by the U.S. News and World Report.

For decades, the Department of Physical Education at Michigan Tech University served as the nexus for 1) promoting physical fitness and the development of physical, emotional, and social skills, 2) fostering sportsmanship and teamwork, and 3) affording educational experiences in individual and team sports. In 2006, the University decided to expand the departmental mission to become a degree-granting unit, and a B.S. in Exercise Science was launched. The department was renamed the Department of Exercise Science, Health and Physical Education.

The transition to a fully-engaged academic unit also meant inclusion of tenure-track faculty, research, and scholarship. Departmental faculty serve as primary advisors for M.S. and Ph.D. students officially enrolled in Biological Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, and Human Factors. Integrative physiology has become a core research strength of the department, with funded research by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association. By 2011, the department had nearly doubled its enrollment expectation and was the home to over 130 undergraduate students and 8 graduate students officially enrolled in other departments. This rapid and exciting transition necessitated another departmental name change that encompassed the new curricular and research interests without compromising our long-held commitment to physical education of all Michigan Tech students. After a lengthy discussion, the department was renamed the Department of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology. In fact, the name change was partially in response to an article published in Kinesiology Today.

Excerpt from Michigan Tech University Senate Proposal 40-11 (approved April 27, 2011):

…. “The department aims to strengthen its growing reputation in the field of integrative physiology without compromising the undergraduate degree programs, our physical education/co-curricular mission, or disenfranchising faculty involved in other critical areas of research (i.e., human biomechanics and motor control/learning). Kinesiology by definition is the “study of human movement”, and encompasses our undergraduate curriculum, the research domains of human biomechanics and motor control/learning, and our physical activity/co-curricular mission. Moreover, a recent article in Kinesiology Today (Winter 2011, Volume 4, Issue 1) titled “Slowly But Surely ‘Kinesiology’ Gains Foothold As Departmental Title” demonstrates the relevance of the proposed departmental name at a national level (www.americankinesiology.org/kinesiology-today).”…..

Undergraduate Program

The B.S. in Exercise Science is scientifically grounded, and primarily serves as a transition to pre-health professions. Approximately 70% of our students consistently state that they plan to use their Exercise Science degree to apply for graduate education in medicine, physical therapy, physician assistant, chiropractic medicine, veterinary medicine, and even dental school. In seven short years in existence, the department boasts an acceptance rate into these various graduate programs of over 90%, well above national norms. This success is attributed to having highly skilled and motivated students (Michigan Tech is second to only the University of Michigan Ann Arbor for average ACT scores of incoming freshman in Michigan public universities) and a curriculum deeply rooted in the core sciences. Our Exercise Science students are required to take Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Anatomy and Physiology, Calculus for Life Sciences, Genetics, and Introduction to Kinesiology in their initial years before they engage in higher level kinesiology courses such as Exercise Physiology, Biomechanics of Human Movement, Motor Control and Learning, Exercise Assessment and Prescription, Sport Psychology, etc. Students are also required to participate in a minimum 3 credit internship that provides real-world experience. All students receive a robust General Education that includes a variety of options from our humanities, arts, and social sciences. Finally, there is flexibility in our degree (~20 free electives) that allow for more specialized courses for a particular career or graduate education. For example, this allows the pre-medicine student to take Organic Chemistry, Microbiology, and other classes needed for medical school.

More recently, a B.S. in Sports and Fitness Management has been launched. This degree is not as deeply rooted in the sciences, but nevertheless still includes some basic STEM requirements consistent with the Michigan Tech mission. This curriculum focuses more on sports administration, leadership, communication, business, and practical skills necessary for a career in sports management or fitness management. The curriculum includes a more extended internship experience than our Exercise Science degree (minimum 6 credits), and has several required courses through our School of Business. Students from this program have been highly successful, and one of our first graduates in this degree is currently working for the San Francisco 49ers!

Graduate Program

The department does not currently have its own graduate program, but faculty are primary advisors for several graduate students in Biological Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, and Human Factors. These ‘kinesiology’ graduate students have been extremely successful, and have received regional and national recognition. In fact, the department has had four graduate students receive national research awards through the American Physiological Society. Over the past 6 years, departmental faculty have advised a total of 3 M.S. and 3 Ph.D. graduates that have either assumed jobs elsewhere or are currently in a post-doctoral fellowships. The departmental strategic plan includes the development of a M.S. and Ph.D. program within the next 2-3 years.

Future Goals

The department remains committed to our co-curricular mission to deliver quality physical education to all Michigan Tech students. We collaborate closely with the Department of Athletics on this mission, and most varsity coaches have dual appointment and teaching responsibilities with our department. Physical education has been our history, and we are proud that Michigan Tech continues to value a physical education requirement for all students. We aim to continue being creative and innovative in how we balance this core general education responsibility with our newly founded and dynamic degree programs, research, and scholarship. We will maintain a strong undergraduate curriculum and position ourselves for an equally successful graduate program. And all of this must be done in a financially challenged period for higher education, particularly in Michigan. Nevertheless, we proudly come from a historical background and discipline where opportunities and challenges are the norm… and the key to success remains teamwork and persistence.

For more information on Michigan Tech’s kinesiology program, visit www.mtu.edu/kip or call 906-487-2715.