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Exercise science moves forward

Assistant Professor Mark Blegen headed up efforts to get accreditation for St. Kates exercise and sport science program.
Assistant Professor Mark Blegen headed up efforts to get accreditation for St. Kates exercise and sport science program.
Rebecca Zenefski 10

Say “exercise science” and most people think about a major that involves becoming a personal trainer. That’s far from the whole story at St. Catherine University, where professors and students gained some serious “cred” this past January for the rigor of their curriculum and the extent of their credentials.

St. Kate’s exercise and sport science program is one of 24 in the country to earn accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Going beyond saying, essentially, “you’ve got it right,” a CAAHEP committee was “thoroughly impressed” during the site visit that is part of the accreditation process.

Assistant Professor Mark Blegen, Ph.D., who led faculty colleagues in revamping the curriculum to meet CAAHEP’s national standards, hopes that prospective students will see the accreditation as a blue-ribbon achievement. “An outside professional body says we are doing what we need to be doing,” he explains. “People outside the University should be able to recognize that St. Kate’s has a unique program. Ultimately that draws students to campus.”

St. Kate’s is the first Minnesota school to earn CAAHEP accreditation for its exercise and sport science program.

Ultimately it is students who benefit from St. Kate’s being at the head of the class. Blegen projects that within five or 10 years, people won’t be allowed to sit for the national qualifying exams unless they’ve graduated from an accredited program. “It ties back to employers and grad schools knowing that a St. Kate’s grad is a trained, qualified professional,” he says.

Intellectual heavy lifting

St. Kate’s newly accredited program, which includes three related majors is intellectually and physically rigorous.

Fifty to 60 percent of EXSS majors are intercollegiate athletes. Blegen believes one of the keys to the program is the activity level required of students — they’re not just sitting and listening to a lecture. “It’s a natural link; they’re already kinesthetically aware. You’re always learning something you can apply that day to your own workout or advice to another.”

Among the courses students take are biomechanics, chemistry, exercise testing and prescription, exercise physiology, fitness training, anatomy, kinesiology, performance analysis and sports medicine. In addition to internships, students get hands-on experience by volunteering for the Twin Cities Marathon each October and by attending meetings and giving presentations to the Northland Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Blegen’s own research and presentations exemplify the intellectual heavy lifting in St. Kate’s exercise and sport science program. Wrap your brain around two of his many research topics: “The Immunogical and Metabolic Responses to Exercise of Varying Intensities in Normoxic and Hypoxic Environment” and “Circulating Estradiol, Interleukin-6 Production, and the Relationship to Substrate Metabolism and Performance in Females.” (Read more about Blegen’s work on circuit-weight interval training, motivation in athletes, results of an urban youth tennis program, why athletes eat and more at his curriculum vitae link.)

St. Kate’s blend of science and practical application meshes well with trends in the field. Cutting-edge scientists are examining how exercise impacts brain biochemistry and the actual structure of the brain. “People are looking for the practical application of genetics,” Blegen says.

Blegen believes that every athlete — from the weekend warrior to the elite competitor — should invest in an assessment and individual program development with a certified personal trainer. Yet, few students enroll in St. Kate’s baccalaureate program to become personal trainers, a field that presently does not require a bachelor’s degree. Most have their eyes on graduate study in a health sciences field.

“The majority of our students are going on to graduate school for clinical exercise physiology and testing, biomechanics, strength and conditioning, physical therapy,” he explains.

Graduates pursue careers in sports medicine, clinical exercise physiology, injury management, fitness consulting, strength and conditioning coaching, and other health sciences work. They go on to teach, coach, consult and lead in all kinds of organizations, including hospitals and clinics, colleges and universities, corporations and clubs, and strength and conditioning performance facilities.

Blegen is impressed. “The students I have at St. Kate’s know where they’re going, and they’re very dedicated about it,” he says. “They picked the school because they know what they want to do, and we have the program.”

Having a nationally accredited exercise and sport science program is a big win for St. Catherine. It’s also a dream come true for Blegen, who previously taught at Springfield College in Massachusetts and Mount Union College in Ohio, whose exercise and sport science programs are not accredited. “It’s incredibly exciting,” he says. “One of the reasons I came here is to take a program and put a stamp on it.”

March 9, 2010 by Karen Hansen

See also: Athletics, Healthcare