Lifelong Learning

May 01, 2008

Generation Group XYZ

University professor Jan Schroeder, PhD, shares her school’s formula for future fitness professionals’ success.

The department of kinesiology at Calif­­or­nia State University, Long Beach (CSULB), serves approximately 500 undergraduate students in eight options, 250 pre-major students and 150 graduate students in 10 options. According to its mission statement, the department’s purpose is to “facilitate wellness among individuals through the study and application of human movement principles across the life span, and through the management of and participation in physical activity, exercise and sport.”

Jan Schroeder is an associate professor of fitness at CSULB, where she has been involved with the fitness option in kinesiology since 1999. Schroeder has seen significant changes in the past 9 years as she has helped guide the next generation of fitness professionals. “When I was hired, my main duty besides teaching was to update the fitness option undergraduate degree program,” Schroeder says. “I moved the degree from a bachelor of arts to a bachelor of science program. I added 10 new classes that capture the fundamental nature of the fitness industry, and I deleted courses that did not complement the new program of study. [Our fitness option] has gone from 12 students to more than 120 students!”

What are the main highlights of the curriculum? How do they prepare students for a career in the fitness industry?

Our program is unique in that we cover all aspects of fitness. Many universities—CSULB included—have an exercise science program, which is generally geared to the clinical realm of the industry. Our program prepares students for careers in the fitness industry as personal trainers and/or group exercise specialists, fitness educators and fitness club managers/owners. Our students must take traditional exercise physiology and biomechanics classes, but they also take courses such as theory and analysis of group exercise instruction; fitness management; program design for individuals with unique health considerations; fitness and the aging process; and so on. Our internship contacts tell us they love working with our students because they are more prepared in their knowledge, skills and abilities than the traditional exercise science student.

How do you grade students or define program completion?

Students must complete all university and department classes and meet require­ments. They must pass their fitness option requirements with a grade of C or higher, maintain CPR and first-aid certifications and pass a fitness proficiency test.

How much of the program is practical (hands-on) and how much is theory?

Our program has a wonderful mix of theory and practical application. The majority of our required classes are lecture/lab. We believe students have a better learning experience if they apply the information they hear in a traditional lecture to a lab setting. In addition, the students are able to put into practice their communication and technical skills in a nonthreatening environment prior to working in the “real world.”

What are the major obstacles or challenges for your program? For the graduates?

In the past 8 years we have overcome many obstacles, from trying to find funding for new equipment to establishing a fitness instruction laboratory. We are currently in the process of hiring another tenure-track professor to help with the demands of the degree program. As for the graduates, I think their major obstacle is that as they near graduation they begin to realize they have so many career paths [open to them] that it can become overwhelming. They also begin to understand that this career is a lifelong learning process that does not end with the degree.

What motivates today’s college students to enroll in fitness-related degree programs? Do they have traits in common that distinguish them from other students? What attracts them to your program?

I think students enter the fitness world because they want to help people become healthier and they want to share their love of movement with others. Also, they enjoy not having the traditional 9–5 office job. I think individuals who are successful in fitness do very well at multitasking, are efficient and creative and in most cases have a constant need to move. I think we attract many students because we specialize in fitness as opposed to exercise science. We prepare students by providing them with the skills and knowledge needed to dissect trends and apply them appropriately to different populations.

Does your program have any network in place to link program alumni with upcoming grads? If so, how did you set up this network?

Many of our graduates work within our internship sites, so our students have quite a bit of contact with alumni. In addition, we invite alumni as well as top fitness professionals to talk to our students about their experiences in the industry and to provide insight/mentorship for our emerging professionals.

Do you have a mentorship or placement system for students to transition into? Is it internal or external? If external, how did you create this relationship and how effective do you think it is? How do you define your success rate?

All of our students must complete 620 hours of fieldwork in fitness prior to graduation. We require them to have 200 hours in a traditional fitness setting (health club, YMCA, personal training studio, mind-body studio, etc.); 200 hours within a corporate fitness setting; 20 hours of community service working with older adults in a fitness setting; and an additional 200 hours of work in which they may choose their emphasis. We assist the students with placements, and we work with over 30 facilities and companies to provide as many diverse experiences as we can. We have worked many years to build these relationships, and we feel they are successful because the majority of our students are hired following graduation; some are even hired prior to graduation.

What do you think needs to happen in the industry in order to ensure younger fitness professionals’ success?

I believe fitness professionals need to take an active role in mentoring emerging professionals. Mentoring can be giving a few words of encouragement, helping with determining the best path for a client or providing a formal internship. Many young professionals are nervous about approaching the veterans; we need to reach out to them. I also believe that programs need to provide a realistic view of the industry to our future professionals. We need to make sure they understand that the veterans got to where they are through a lot of hard work, perseverance and lifelong learning. Success does not happen overnight, but it can happen with the right mindset and determination.

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