USC’s Clinical Exercise Research Center holds a new four-week summer course meant to introduce high school students from across the country to the field of kinesiology.
BY JAMIE WETHERBE MA ’04
NOT THAT LONG AGO, STUDENTS PURSUING A DEGREE IN KINESIOLOGY aspired to become a coach, physical education teacher or personal trainer. But, over the years, kinesiology has experienced a significant growth spurt, paving the way to multiple careers in science and medicine.
“There’s so much more that kinesiology offers as far as a science-based degree,” says Todd Schroeder PhD ’00, associate professor of clinical physical therapy. “It’s such a wide field now.”
This summer, USC’s Clinical Exercise Research Center offered a new four-week course to present kinesiology to high school students from across the country. In Kinesiology: Moving Minds and Bodies through Sports, Medicine and Health, students learned about the diverse subject through laboratory experiments, expert speakers and hands-on exercises with new technology in sports performance and recovery.
“It’s exciting to expose young people to this big field,” says David Erceg, clinical assistant professor of physical therapy. “Folks think of kinesiology as being more one-dimensional. But it’s more than that; it can be a stepping stone to become a physician, nurse, occupational therapist, physical therapist, or you could become a scientist and go into molecular research, like myself.”
The uniqueness of the course, in part, came from field trips to a variety of training and sports spaces in the area. For instance, the students made a cameo at a movie stunt training facility to learn more about the mechanics of movement.
The specialty studio, which trains movie stars for stunts and musicians to be on stage, prepped Keanu Reeves for his action role in John Wick.
“It’s a unique facility because actors and stunt people need training and recovery, and no one really focuses on that,” Schroeder says.
The studio is specifically designed to condition actors’ bodies for action movies. Unlike how an athlete preps for a game, which has an end point, an actor must prepare to perform the same sequence, like a fight scene, over and over again.
“It’s about keeping your body in a certain shape, so you can shoot that scene for hours,” Erceg adds. “It’s preparing someone to be able to last for multiple sets or multiple takes, for back-to-back days. It goes beyond personal training and opens our students up to a wider industry they might not have considered.”
As part of the visit, Mike Chat led students through a martial arts sequence and the training that goes on behind the scenes.
“It was so cool, hearing about how you can take kinesiology into acting and the film industry,” says Alexis Murphy, a 15-year-old student in the course. “They talked about going on tour with bands and artists; I didn’t even know these were jobs.”
Other field trips included strapping on heart-rate monitors and GPS devices for a soccer game. Students measure how hard players were working and considered how that intensity could be curbed as part of an injured athlete’s course of recovery.
The class also visited Jumpman LA to play a data-driven basketball game. The Jumpman facility in Downtown L.A. features a regulation-size rooftop basketball court and sports-science-equipped lab.
“I am an athlete, and I want to work with athletes in a medical capacity,” says Gunner Denius, a 17-year-old student in the course. “It showed me that research isn’t just chemistry in a lab, but how you can use technology to exercise and motivate more people to do the same.”
Students geared up with wearable tech so they could assess their performance, recovery and reaction times, much like a professional athlete.
“They also got to play on the basketball court — it was a good time,” Erceg says.
Perhaps one of the more pivotal experiences was learning about anatomy. Susan Sigward, associate professor of clinical physical therapy, took students into the cadaver lab, giving them an in-depth look at the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems.
“Students had the chance to hold the brain, lungs and heart,” Erceg says. “They got to see the muscles, front and back; it was a one-of-a-kind experience.”
For Denius, the experience was so impactful, it prompted him to rethink his career goals. “It’s part of the reason I reconsidered surgery,” he says. “I was set on going to medical school to become an orthopedic surgeon. But it made me realize I’d like to prevent injuries, rather than repair them.”
A series of guest speakers — from physical therapists in USC Athletics to professionals working with major sports teams — also visited the class. Kari Oliver, a sports dietitian for the Los Angeles Kings, proved to be a class favorite.
“I didn’t know these programs existed,” Murphy says. “I’ve always been a big sports lover, especially the Yankees. Hearing about [Kari’s] experience working in the sports science department for the Kings, I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
While the speakers had a variety of backgrounds, they all spoke about the journey to their current career.
“Many of our guests shared how they came into their careers almost by accident — they tried something new and got hooked,” Erceg says. “There were a lot of words of wisdom, including to be open and curious to different experiences, as that can shape where your future lies.”
The summer kinesiology course certainly changed some students’ minds.
“When we started, I’d say two-thirds wanted to go into medicine,” Schroeder says. “We actually changed a number of minds by exposing them to the field of kinesiology and all they can do.”
Murphy, who started the program planning to pursue architecture and interior design, was no exception. “Hearing my instructors’ stories of how they got to where they are had the biggest impact on me,” she says. “I forced myself out of my comfort zone and found a whole world of things I never knew existed.”
Murphy is now searching for internships in professional sports, including opportunities with her favorite team, the Yankees. When the time comes, she also plans to apply to USC.
“I really want to stay in contact with the people I met in this program,” Murphy says. “USC has been my dream school, and it has been since the eighth grade. My goal is to end up on campus.”