New Partners, A Shared Legacy

Health, Recreation and Community Services and Kinesiology at UNI College of Education

Since the first physical culture department was formalized in 1892, the value of healthy activity and its intersection with education has been part of the University of Northern Iowa and College of Education story.

More than 125 years later, UNI still prepares highly skilled teachers in physical education. But today, the college’s focus on health and well-being is multi-faceted.

Its breadth and depth is reflected in the proud history of the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation (1979-1990); School of Health, Physical Education and Leisure Services (1990-2016) and School of Kinesiology, Allied Health and Human Services (2016-2018), all within the College of Education. 

The past year, a new chapter in health and human services education began, as the college launched two new departments in place of a school structure: 

  • Health, Recreation and Community Services (HRCS), led by Oksana Grybovych Hafermann, Ed.D. The Ukrainian native, who joined the faculty in 2008, is an expert on tourism and non-profit management. 
  • Kinesiology, headed by Fabio Fontana, Ph.D. Originally from Brazil, Fontana has focused his research on vision in sports and weight discrimination.           .

“Part of our history is that what made us so large was the success of our individual programs,” says Dr. Fontana. “The separation came as a need because of that size. We share information and ideas, and we’re very supportive of each other. I think we’re in a better position to be two departments to manage, grow and meet our students’ needs.”

Getting organized

The two departments are now divided into five divisions. In HRCS, they landed on health promotion and education; leisure, youth and human services; and athletic training and rehabilitation studies. Kinesiology has kinesiology, encompassing movement and exercise science, and physical education teaching.

“We had extensive conversations of what the configuration would look like, who goes with whom. I remember the meeting where our three programs got together. There was something magical that happened in the room. It was really amazing. There was so much excitement as to what we could do with this opportunity,” says Grybovych Hafermann.

“My big goal for this last year was to create one cohesive department. I think we’ve done a tremendous amount of work. We’ve looked closely at curriculum and enrollment and explored and formed new partnerships,” she says, citing the renaming of health promotion to public health and education and new partnerships with departments like Communication Sciences and Disorders.   

Similarly, Fontana’s team took steps to make needed curricular changes in every program.  

“We’ve been able to make changes to programs to meet market demands and be most helpful to students. In the fall we have a new sports administration minor, and we’re proposing a new minor in strength and conditioning, so we will have three minors attached to exercise science that will more specifically lead to a profession,” Fontana says.  

The kinesiology programs are known for their opportunities in research, even at the undergraduate level. Fontana was pleased to get support for new advanced equipment this past year to aid students’ understanding of complex concepts more easily. This included a new metabolic measurement system, EMG system and an update to its motion capture system.

From one to many, but connected

What was once a singular department of “physical culture” now has multiple components within these two departments. HRCS is perhaps the most diverse. Its well-regarded athletic training program is just one segment. The largest division is leisure, youth and human services, which supports an array of potential careers, from youth coaching to nonprofit management and therapeutic recreation and more. Then there are the emphases areas within public health and education, from wellness and fitness to global, environmental and women's health.  

When asked what ties these programs together, Grybovych Hafermann replied: “We all have this overarching focus on either health and wellness or quality of life. That’s the really big emphasis on everything we do.”

In kinesiology, the response is similar. “Everything is related to sports and physical activity. We have our traditional preparation of physical education teachers, but we also help prepare coaches, strength and conditioning specialists, sport administrators and fitness professionals,” Fontana says. “We’re a well-rounded department in terms of covering pretty much all of the professions associated with sports and physical activity.”

Next steps

With one year behind them, both leaders are focused on what’s next. Grybovych Hafermann hopes to merge two master’s programs in health and leisure and create a new one in community health and recreation. Now that athletic training is a master’s-level program, the undergraduate major may be renamed to more accurately reflect its pre-clinical career preparation.

She also says you can expect other name changes within HRCS. “We are trying to define more clearly who we are and what we do. Our names, that’s our image,” she says. Giving a hint for what may come, she says, “For example, we have a strong advantage with non-profit leadership, but do students recognize that?”

Respecting the legacy while moving forward

While ready to move forward, the two understand their role in preserving history as well. “For me, especially for physical education, there has been a very long history, so we want to keep the legacy of a good program and make sure it’s still meeting current needs and improving as time goes on,” says Fontana.

“I think both departments recognize advantages of being our own department, but we still work together, and we know that because we have such a long history as one, we need to be respectful of that, be aware, and we need to figure out how to carry that history forward,” adds Grybovych Hafermann. “We are re-creating and re-positioning ourselves; hopefully that will be the new legacy.”

Some things don’t change. Both leaders point to quality of programming, the opportunities for real-world experience embedded within most majors, and importantly, the faculty and staff within each department.

“Our attention to students is a common value in the department. You see doors open for students, opportunities for students to participate in undergraduate research or projects like UNI Panther Play, or professors who go beyond traditional expectations in the classroom,” says Fontana. 

“We have people with so many different areas of expertise, and yet they’re all driven by the same passion and same purpose,” Grybovych Hafermann adds. “We want our students to succeed. We get very proud and excited and humbled to see what they can and do accomplish in the world.”

What’s New?

From promotion to public health

Public health and education is the new name of a division within health, recreation and community services.

Students previously received undergraduate degrees in health promotion and graduate degrees in health education, as well as minors in health promotion, school health education, and certificates in global health and environmental health. Going forward, “public health” replaces most references to health promotion.

The change reflects industry trends. “Public health encompasses everything from public health agencies at state and local levels to human service, education, youth, recreation, economic, philanthropic and environmental organizations,” says Grybovych Hafermann. “This new name represents acceptance of public health as the overarching definition of what our students are engaged in daily, in the classroom and in the field.”

Advancing career and education

This fall, a new master’s program in kinesiology and sports performance is intended to meet multiple needs.

“Whether you’re looking to continue your education or further your career, this new program has a blend of coursework that supports your interests,” says Fontana.

The degree is geared toward graduate students interested in coaching, strength and conditioning, fitness and sports administration careers. It also flexes for students working toward their doctoral degree.

“Our goal is to offer degrees that meet market needs, and we saw this as an opportunity, building on the strength of our undergraduate programs,” Fontana says. Also new for fall 2019 is a sports administration minor.