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Exercise science studies at Central Oregon Community College coach students on the world of wellness

PHOTO SUBMITTED BY MARK RUSSELL JOHNSON
 - COCC's John Liccardo trains future occupational therapists and personal trainers. Three skeletons roll into a classroom.

That's not the set-up for a groan-inducing punchline, it's how an anatomical kinesiology class begins at Central Oregon Community College (COCC), as John Liccardo, associate professor in the Health and Human Performance department, arrives to teach with skeletal models in tow. Soon his students take turns thinking of a bone, then describe its location using anatomical terminology as a way to clue-in classmates.

"I'm looking at something that's posterior to the sternum…it has lots of muscle attachments," a female student communicated to her group, slowly spooling out hints. They make guesses, homing in on the correct bone, and the lesson is both interactive and instructive.

Liccardo observes the learning in real time. "This class is really fun, people get to move," he said, alluding to how students' own body movements help inform their educational process. That "moving" aspect of the anatomical kinesiology class, explained Liccardo, a former NCAA Division I athlete, is essential for these future occupational therapists, physical therapists and personal trainers, all students of the college's exercise science program.

Exercise science is certainly a field on the move. In an era when people are embracing wellness and fitness more than ever, and as health science continually makes new strides, the role of exercise science has become increasingly mainstream. People want nutritional guidance. They're looking to trainers and coaches — with both physical and mental toolboxes at their disposal — to enrich their lives. Physical therapists seem as commonplace in people's health care orbits these days as doctors and dentists. And as a tidal wave of baby boomers reaches older age, the role of health coaches — from basic fitness to cardiac rehabilitation — is fast expanding.

While math and science skills are fundamentally wired to the discipline, the program also fosters person-to-person interactions. Exercise science is a career track that speaks to athletes, health-minded individuals and those who simply want to make a difference.

At COCC, exercise science students can earn an Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer degree with either an exercise science/kinesiology or a pre-physical therapy emphasis. Coursework includes wellness coaching, sport psychology and training theory, among other focuses.

The college's learning resources include an advanced physiology lab, with testing services such as sport-specific V02 max, body composition, lactate analysis and general aerobic fitness. The lab serves a diverse clientele, from amateur athletes to professional sports competitors, and most services come with a complete one-on-one results analysis. Customizable fitness and wellness lectures — from nutrition plans to athlete-focused training programs — are available to businesses, clubs and groups. (Closed for the summer, the lab is scheduling appointments for this fall; contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Exercise science is an education that delivers on two levels: Students not only learn skills applicable to their chosen career, but they also discover good-health concepts and practices to assimilate into their own lives.

In one of Jenny Cruickshank's recent wellness coaching classes, the assistant professor unpacked — and quickly discarded — the notion that failure is a bad thing.

"I'm going to encourage you to think about the 'failing forward' idea," said Cruickshank, a nationally board-certified wellness coach, encouraging her students to view swings and misses as a platform for growth. Part of her lecture for the day centered on the power of the bucket list, how a written set of goals can trigger a far-reaching wellness boost.

New data, she shared, suggests that people with depression and chronic health issues, even traumatic brain injuries, are benefitting from the goal-oriented technique. Yes, crossing things off a list releases feel-good dopamine and serotonin, she added, but the mere intention creates a deeper impact.

"Just writing it down validates it," said a male student. "Yes!" Cruickshank replied. With her open, encouraging manner (and an occasional high-five), Cruickshank was making an impression.

For former student Ally Thompson, who owns and operates BodyRock, a training and fitness studio, that impression has endured.

"One of the things that makes the COCC program so strong is their dedication," she said of the exercise science faculty. "They're so knowledgeable and so invested in what they are teaching. They care about their students, and their students' success, long after the classes end."

For more details on exercise science at COCC, visit cocc.edu/programs/exercise-science or call 541-383-7700.


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