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Balancing Fitness and Fun

Balancing Fitness and Fun
Department of Physical Education director Steve VanKanegan and administrative assistant Amber Harris demonstrate proper weight training technique.

Staying fit in college can be a challenge. For many students, their rigorous academic schedules barely leave time to breathe, let alone hit the gym regularly.

USC College senior Jason Lubin said the best solution to his fitness time crunch was to make physical education part of his course load during the spring semester.

Lubin enrolled in a morning section of swimming offered by the College’s Department of Physical Education. “The class gives me an opportunity to learn new strokes and challenge myself with harder training,” he said. Most importantly, Lubin added, “it gets me out of bed in the morning and makes sure that I get a good workout for the day.”

More and more, USC students are recognizing the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle during their college years. They find that physical education classes offer the perfect outlet for exercise and stress release while fitting in with other commitments.

The physical education department has experienced a steady rise in student enrollment since it became an independent department in 1999. It has more than doubled its enrollment figures, expanding from 1,765 students 10 years ago to nearly 4,000 students enrolled in physical education classes during the course of the 2008-09 academic year.

This trend distinguishes USC from other universities where lack of funding has severely limited physical education curriculum, according to Steve VanKanegan, the director of physical education. “We’re one of the few that not only has continued to exist, but we’ve continued to grow,” he said.

The consistent growth, VanKanegan said, can be attributed to the department’s focus on high-quality faculty and staff. “We have made a point of hiring qualified, energetic, passionate people,” he said. As a result, USC students from all majors and interests gravitate to physical education to round out their schedules, choosing from the department’s wide selection of one- and two-unit courses.

Classes taught by trained instructors are accessible and challenging to students of all skill levels, said department administrative assistant Amber Harris. “I was afraid of swimming,” said Harris, whose first physical education experience as a USC graduate student helped her learn to swim.

She succeeded in the class even though many classmates were far more experienced, and the willingness of the department’s instructors to create a personalized curriculum that corresponded to her differing skill level and needs meant never feeling left behind. Regardless of experience or goals, Harris said, “This gives you a good place to start.”

Since physical education classes are taken for elective credit, the choice by students to add a unit of physical education to busy course loads shows they value health and general fitness in their curriculum. “Students are telling us that not only is it a good stress release, but it is equipping them with tools that are going to help them maintain a healthier lifestyle,” VanKanegan said.

Recent class additions include such diverse choices as yoga, stress management and self-defense, which complement the department’s more traditional sports and fitness courses. New sections are consistently added to satisfy student demand.

An innovative approach to physical education also involves updating the classics, Van Kanegan said. A typical aerobics class at USC may incorporate anything from cardio-kickboxing to spinning over the course of a semester. “It’s not just your old-school aerobics anymore,” he said.

Balancing Fitness and Fun

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