By Patty Freedson, Professor and Chair
By Patty Freedson, Professor and Chair
The Department of Kinesiology was formally recognized as a department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1965 and was the first of its kind in the United States (Department of Exercise Science until 2006). The original undergraduate and graduate curricula have been adapted by numerous institutions of higher education in the United States and abroad to develop academic programs of study. Our department was originally in the School of Physical Education along with the departments of Sport Management and Physical Education. In 1992, the School of Physical Education was eliminated, and our department and the Department of Nutrition transferred to the School of Public Health, which was renamed the School of Public Health and Health Sciences.
We have thirteen tenure-track faculty, one research professor, one instructor and four post-doctoral fellows. We have nine research labs: Biomechanics, Energy Metabolism, Exercise Neuroscience, Exercise Psychology, Motor Control, Muscle Biophysics, Muscle Biology and Imaging, Muscle Physiology, and Physical Activity and Health. Several of our faculty have received awards and have been selected for prestigious lectures. Faculty were invited to deliver the Wolfe Lecture and President’s Lectures at the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting. Additionally, faculty have received the following awards: University of Massachusetts Outstanding Teaching Award, Distinguished University of Massachusetts Faculty Lecturer Awards, Outstanding Research and Creative Activities Awards, Distinguished Research Professorship, and American College of Sports Medicine Honor and Citation Awards.
Several faculty hold joint appointments with interdisciplinary programs on campus, such as Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Neuroscience and Behavior. Five of our faculty are fellows and members of the American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education. Our mission statement best describes what we do: “To generate new knowledge and educate society, within and beyond the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, as to the scientific principles that underlie the role of movement in attaining optimal human health and well-being.” We structured our program into three content areas: Biomechanics and Motor Systems, Physical Activity and Health, and Physiology. Functionally, many of our faculty work across areas integrating content from more than one area in our teaching and to address research questions.
We have 470 undergraduate majors. The undergraduate kinesiology curriculum requirements include courses in basic science and math fundamentals to provide a richer understanding of many of our core courses in kinesiology. Our core kinesiology requirements include: Introduction to Kinesiology, Human Performance and Nutrition, Biomechanics, Exercise Physiology, Motor Control, Wellness for All, and Statistics and Measurement in Kinesiology. We also offer undergraduate courses that prepare students for the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association certification programs. Our graduates are employed in the health and fitness field and athletic shoe industry. Many matriculate from our program into graduate school to study kinesiology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, medicine, cardiac rehabilitation, or biology. In response to the growing interest and demand for professional training and certification in various aspects of the health and fitness field, we are studying the feasibility of incorporating a track system in which students are able to pursue more specialized career training. This type of curriculum model would allow students to direct their studies for specific career paths for graduate study in kinesiology or professional training in health and fitness or in preparation for graduate study in the allied health fields.
We have 51 graduate students, with 66% of our graduate students pursuing the PhD degree. All of our graduate students are funded with teaching or research assistantships. All graduate students entering our program have been accepted by one or more faculty members who agree to fund the student and serve as the student’s faculty mentors. Using this approach, all students work closely with their faculty mentors from the beginning of their graduate studies and are actively involved with research activities in the labs. All of our PhD students graduate with having at least one and often two to four papers published in the peer-reviewed science literature. Many of our graduate students have also been successful in securing research and travel awards from professional organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine, American Physiological Society, International Society of Biomechanics, and American Society of Biomechanics as well as the university. Several PhD students have received research funding through the NIH-funded NRSA fellowship mechanism.
The emphasis of our graduate program is in research training, and our graduates are highly competitive for research positions both within and outside of academia. Our PhD graduates hold tenure track or research positions at Purdue University, University of Delaware, University of Wisconsin, Iowa State University, Montana State, Louisiana State, and Colorado Health Sciences Center. Recent graduates have secured prestigious post-doctoral positions at the Mayo Clinic, U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Palo Alto VA Medical Center, Colorado Health Sciences Center, and the Children’s National Medical Center.
Our faculty have received numerous grants from federal agencies such as NIH and NSF, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, American Diabetes Association, and industry. Over the past ten years, external funding for research has grown substantially from $258,200 in 1999 to $1,400,300 in 2008. Our department was recently recognized as one of the top departments on campus for interdisciplinary research with collaborators from Engineering, Biology, Psychology, and Mathematics and Statistics. Research interests of our faculty and graduate students are diverse and include the following areas: locomotion, cumulative trauma injuries, musculoskeletal modeling, muscle mechanics, muscle physiology, energy metabolism, insulin resistance, diabetes, muscle damage, muscle hypertrophy and atrophy, molecular motors, muscle fatigue, motor unit discharge behavior, aging, physical activity and exercise in multiple sclerosis, physical activity interventions in children and minorities, and physical activity assessment.
Our department promotes diversity using several strategies. We have been successful in recruiting minority students to our undergraduate and graduate programs. For example, approximately 12 percent of our graduate students are minorities, and more than 20 percent are international students. Part of our success in recruiting minority graduate students is attributable to the NSF-funded Northeast Alliance Program, which provides fellowships to minority graduate students. We have been fortunate to have received six fellowship for minority students providing full funding for the first and last year of their PhD programs.