Physical education major, career options changing at Wayland

June 11, 2010

PLAINVIEW – Decades ago, students pursuing a major in physical education at Wayland Baptist University typically only had a few options for future careers. They could be school coaches or school phys ed teachers or possibly both.

These days, however, students have a wide variety of options from which to choose if they prefer a career in the health and physical fitness realm, both in the public sector and at Wayland.

Since joining the WBU faculty in 1980, associate professor Pat Buchanan has personally witnessed the evolution of his field from a sparsely populated group of students wanting to teach and coach to a large group of majors studying a variety of fields, all under the umbrella of the School of Education within the newly named Department of Exercise and Sport Science (EXSS).

“These days, students are more encouraged to do what they love and major in areas they have great interest in,” said Buchanan, who earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from WBU in 1971 and a master’s degree in education from West Texas A&M in 1975. “This major offers options for those who don’t want to sit behind a desk all day.”

The changes in the program, primarily instituted in this last school year, have garnered much interest from students. The department went from 18 majors in 2009 to 64 current majors and those students spread across the options.

Besides the name change, the first addition was a new fitness management composite major that offers a variety of specializations within. Armed with a basic foundation of anatomy and physiology, management, health and exercise, students may then specialize in fitness and strength, outdoor education, sport management or sport medicine. The first three prepare students to work more as personal trainers and fitness professionals, camp or recreation directors or sports management and promotion professionals, respectively.

The last specialization offers preparation for students who seek to become athletic trainers in schools or for athletic teams. Coursework provides a great overview and requirements include all the practicum hours and training required by the state to sit for licensure in athletic training. This program is growing in popularity among the more athletically minded students.

An additional specialization under the EXSS major in personal training is also gaining in popularity with students, preparing them to carry their passion for fitness and health into a career leading others to improve their fitness level.

Recreation and camp management is a more that is shared between EXSS and the School of Religion and Philosophy. This course of study pulls activity courses and recreation instruction from the EXSS side while also focusing on the religious and spiritual aspects of camp management.

Buchanan believes the popularity in the department is to some degree a mirror of the society as a whole. Erika Deike, assistant professor of exercise and sport science and the newest member of the department’s faculty, concurs.

“I think students are in (the department) because they love being in sports but coaching may not be the avenue for them,” said Deike, who earned her degree in sports management from Texas A&M in 1998 and her master’s degree in 2006 from Texas State. “They love the athletics aspects of these new fields.”

Both say they believe it also reflects the younger generation’s desire to break the patterns of obesity and health issues they’ve watched parents and grandparents face and focus more on fitness to prevent those conditions. Naturally, some develop a passion for the field and want to make it their life’s work.

The new major offerings mean new coursework in the department as well, with classes like Psychology of Exercise and Sociology of Sport. Add to that the 2008 addition of the new Laney Student Activity Center with full fitness facilities and it means great excitement for students who want to pursue careers in health and fitness.

“This is the most people we’ve ever had interested in fitness in the 30 years I’ve been here,” Buchanan said. “Wayland has really aided in changing the attitude toward exercise.” He noted that the employee-focused wellness initiative has really sparked added interest in the adult population on campus. “All this has changed the face of P.E. into a more serious major.”

“People don’t realize that this is a real major with work and lectures, with classes like Physiology of Exercise that are more difficult.”

Buchanan believes that Deike’s addition to the faculty not only brought in a young, fresh face with a passion for fitness but also attracted more female students to the field as they saw the possibilities for future careers and the active enjoyment of working out regularly. While she’s not too sure what role she’s really played in the growth, she admits a shared love for the field with Buchanan.

“My big push is using fitness as preventive medicine, against heart disease, diabetes and the like,” she said. “I think that’s why people are taking health more seriously these days.”

As far as the future goes, Deike sees the department adding some certification options for fitness in aerobic dance and related areas as popularity in those areas grows. And that will spur on continued interest in the field and room for more growth.