By Cheryl Toomey, University Relations Graduate Assistant
In fall 2014, the Health and Human Performance Department will officially begin to offer a new Master’s Degree, Physical Activity and Health. This new degree focuses on public health and health promotion. The focus will be on promoting health within community based organizations, which might mean neighborhoods, work sites, corporations, small businesses, or school settings.
“What makes this program a lot different than others is that typically programs are specific to what we would call exercise science, which is more training and fitness related, and this is more health and health promotion related. This degree is really focused on the whole person and the whole community or organization,” says Dr. Gary Liguori, Department Head and Associate Professor.
The focus of the Physical Activity and Health degree, explains Liguori, is not to physically train people, but to change behaviors.
“One thing we will thread throughout is sustainable behavior change. We’re looking at health from a holistic perspective,” says Liguori. “So, for example, in our curriculum we will try to create the dividing line between sedentary behavior and physical activity as two different behavioral constructs. Just because you are active doesn’t mean you aren’t also sedentary to a large degree. So, for example, it’s not uncommon for someone to exercise for thirty minutes each day but be sedentary for the rest of the day. They’re two different behaviors, so we would look at how we could reduce the amount of time someone is sitting, even if they exercise each day.”
The Southeast, and Tennessee in particular, consistently posts some of the highest numbers for those at risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and other related health problems, which makes it particularly important to offer a degree that trains students to help change community health behaviors.
“Part of the reason that the Southeast is at the bottom is that there aren’t a lot of groups doing these types of things. There is certainly a need in the city, the state, and the region and we are trying to address that need,” says Liguori. “One of the important aspects of the program is to highlight, for the students but also the community, that the problem exists. After increasing the awareness, we say here are some suggestions, here is what we can offer with our program coming in and partnering and being of help. The main idea is to reduce disease risk and prevent disease where we can.”
Real world experience will form an important part of the curriculum. Students will be required to complete six hours of practicum.
“We expect our students, as a part of their curriculum, to go out into the community, whether it be, neighborhoods, work sites, or schools. They might do assessments, deliver interventions, or disseminate results from what they see,” explains Liguori. “We’re going to encourage students to complete their six hours of practicum at two different places so they can get different perspectives. Their experience will vary based on what an organization might want. They may just want observation or assessments, or they may want outcome measures, program design, program implementation. Our courses will have aspects of all of that in them so that students will be prepared for these different tasks.”
Additionally, the delivery of the degree will be flexible. Evening classes and online classes will be available for students pursuing the degree.
“The delivery of the degree will evolve over time to suit the needs of the students enrolling,” says Liguori.
The Physical Activity and Health degree is open to students of all majors.
“Students’ background is secondary to being a good student. Unlike some other degrees, which require that you must have this undergraduate degree or have completed these courses, we’re more flexible,” says Liguori. “In terms of public health in general, people come from all different backgrounds – sociology, anthropology, communications, psychology, exercise science, nursing, and so on. It’s easy to see how any of those fit into public health and we don’t want to restrict ourselves. What we want are people who meet the criteria to be a graduate student and who are passionate about public health, health promotion, and wellbeing.”