Skip page navigation

Skip page navigation

Department of Physical Education at IUPUI becomes Department of Kinesiology


July 16, 2012

View Related Releases:

Share This:

  • Share

It was a milestone moment for the IU School of Physical Education and Tourism Management at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Earlier this year, the school changed the name of its Department of Physical Education to the Department of Kinesiology, a significant alteration for a school whose roots date back more than 150 years. It is the oldest school in the United States when it comes to preparing physical education teachers. The school’s history begins in 1866, when it was started by the American Turners as the Normal College of the American Gymnastics Union in New York City.

“The name change to kinesiology is exciting because it more accurately captures the research and teaching we undertake related to the use of exercise and sports to promote health and quality of life,” said James Gladden, dean of the IU School of Physical Education and Tourism Management.

Students enrolled in the programs of the Department of Kinesiology at IUPUI will now earn bachelor's and master’s degrees in kinesiology, rather than in physical education. Close to 50 percent of the students in the department are in the exercise science program. Physical education students focused on teacher education made up less than 20 percent of the students in the department in the past five years.

Students in the exercise science program are choosing this track as a preparation for professional degrees, said Rafael E. Bahamonde, professor and chair of the Department of Kinesiology. He cited a recent national higher education report showing that growing numbers of students are earning undergraduate degrees in exercise science to pursue graduate degrees in fast-growing allied health or medical professions.

Advanced programs such as physical therapy and medical programs commonly list kinesiology degrees, for which exercise science is often an option, as fulfilling admission requirements.
Of the 12 tenured or tenure-track faculty members in the department, six are in the exercise science program, three in the physical education teacher education program and three in sport management. Over the years, the focus of faculty research has widened, as faculty study all aspects of human movement and sports, such as the scientific and clinical aspects of physical activity, the pedagogy of teaching physical education and health, and research on the business, economic and sociological impacts of sport.

Kinesiology and four of its sub-disciplines -- biomechanics, exercise physiology, motor control and psychology of movement -- were recognized by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences as a field of study. “That is a big deal,” Bahamonde said. That recognition is of vital importance when it comes to applying for federal grants and external funding from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Mark Urtel, an associate professor and undergraduate director of kinesiology, earned bachelor's and master’s degrees in physical education before earning a Doctor in Education degree. He couldn’t be happier with the new department name.

“I like it because it involves everyone in the department, doesn’t over amplify one career track and is representative of a lot of things,” he said. “I also like the name because it is more neutral and connotes more science.”

At the same time, there is a greater understanding of the importance of physical education when it comes to helping children be physically active.

Physical education today is more science-based, focusing on lifetime fitness, Urtel said. “It is not 45 versions of the game of tag. It is not a winner and a loser in a tournament. Physical education is what can we do to get kids to be physically active during the day and what can we do to motivate them to be physically active on their own time.”

On a national level, physical educators are redefining themselves as physical activity specialists for schools, Urtel said. “They want to program for students before school and after school and during school. It is a more comprehensive approach, in line with a national public health initiative.

“It has now been shown through a number of studies that helping kids be physically active provides so many benefits, including improving children’s readiness to learn, improving their socialization and development of social skills and improving class management,” Urtel said. That comes on top of reducing their risk of becoming obese, he said.

In a sense, physical education is coming back to its origins as a public health initiative, Urtel said. That initiative was begun to prepare students for farming, industrial occupations and military service, he said.

Some view today’s efforts to combat obesity using physical education as a public health initiative as something new, Urtel said. “Many others argue physical education is simply going back to its roots.”