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New online exercise science degree offers students flexible health and wellness career options

Thursday, March 14, 2019

OVERLAND PARK — The University of Kansas School of Education and the Edwards Campus in Overland Park have developed a new exercise science undergraduate degree program to fill the demand for health and wellness jobs in fields such as corporate fitness, exercise, nutrition, and strength and conditioning. Students can earn a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in exercise science as well as an undergraduate certificate in strength and conditioning online.

In the 2019 “Best 100 Jobs” list from U.S. News & World Report, health care and health care support industry jobs account for 44 percent. That’s no surprise to anyone who has watched the aging population continue to increase in numbers. Joe Weir, chair of the Department of Health, Sport, and Exercise Sciences, said the department aims to fill the demand for a variety of health and wellness workers because of the country’s demographics as well as its lifestyle shifts.

“The exercise science undergraduate degree is the fastest growing major in the country,” Weir said. “As long as we have an aging demographic, we’re going to have plenty of health care career jobs that will need students with exercise science skills and knowledge.”

In addition to the elderly population, Weir said the obesity epidemic in the U.S. leading to Type 2 diabetes is creating its own career demand for those who are not licensed health care providers but are in diabetes care, exercise, nutrition counseling and similar fields.

“I think we’re at the front end of that career option just starting to take off,” he said.

Weir and other Edwards Campus faculty and staff members responded to the need for health care workers by developing the new applied science degree, supported by Johnson County Education Research Triangle.

“The B.A.S. in exercise science program curriculum is comprised of applied science courses in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics, personal training, strength and conditioning, nutrition and exercise physiology, as well as flexible elective course options,” said Jordan Taylor, exercise science program director at the Edwards Campus.

Students will take these courses instead of chemistry and physics required for professional schools, said Ashley Herda, assistant professor of health, sport and exercise sciences at the Edwards Campus who also helped develop the program.

“The B.A.S. also allows for an internship at the end of the program where students can gain in-person training and valuable experience to get them started in their dream career, straight out of school,” Herda said.

Herda said 90 to 95 percent of students enrolled in the existing Bachelor of Science degree in exercise science plan to pursue careers as doctors, physical and occupational therapists, physician assistants or other pre-health occupations. The B.A.S. is designed for individuals looking to directly enter or advance in the workforce. The degree is open to students nationwide with the ability to earn the degree completely online.

Besides the career growth opportunities and the flexibility of course availability, Weir said the new nationally recognized B.A.S. degree offers instruction from some of the most credentialed and experienced professors in the nation. In the KU exercise science program, students will learn from faculty experts who are Fellows of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the American College of Sports Medicine while preparing to meet the requirements for:

NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer

NSCA Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator

NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

ISSN Sports Nutrition Specialist

ISSN Certified Sports Nutritionist from the International Society of Sports Nutrition

A trend toward force readiness

The new B.A.S. degree includes specific curriculum created to meet the requirements of the U.S. Armed Forces operational readiness initiatives. Often called “force readiness,” the concept involves making sure the armed forces are physically ready to deploy, with little or no warning, to respond to threats of national security or humanitarian support after national disasters.

“One of the areas that is really hot right now is tactical strength conditioning – training military personnel, police, firefighters and other first responders,” Weir said. “One of the driving forces for the new B.A.S. program was our discussion with the Marine Corps and their force fitness instructor program. These individuals would greatly benefit from the B.A.S. program.”

KU has deep and lasting ties with the U.S. Armed Services, said Col. Mike Denning, a retired Marine and KU’s director of graduate military programs.

“The new B.A.S. degree is another example of how the university listens to the U.S. Department of Defense educational requirements and then responds to those requirements with tailored and flexible academic programming,” Denning said, noting that KU faculty traveled to Quantico, Virginia, to meet Marine Corps force fitness program officials, listen to their needs and observe Marine Corps training. “This new program further strengthens the relationship between KU and the men and women who serve our nation.”

Denning noted the significant changes exercise science has seen throughout the last decade and how researchers have revolutionized the way they study and teach physiological function, biomechanics and kinematics.  

“KU's new B.A.S. degree will provide students from the U.S. Armed Forces with this cutting-edge knowledge, which can help advance physical readiness throughout their units,” Denning said.

Herda said that the Edwards Campus program is built to be flexible for working students and for adults returning to college, a distinction of the new degree offering.

“Of the comparable programs in the area, many are only available on-ground,” Herda said. “The unique part of the B.A.S. is that it is online. We have the technology to transform traditionally lab-based ‘hands-on’ classes to virtual labs.”

Weir said he expects all students to take advantage of the new strength and conditioning certificate that prepares students to take a variety of other nationally administered professional accreditation exams and gives them a competitive advantage when added to their B.S. or B.A.S. degrees.

For more information about the new B.A.S. in Exercise Science visit

Photo: Ashley Herda, assistant professor of health, sport and exercise sciences at the University of Kansas Edwards Campus, leads a strength and conditioning lab in October 2018. Heavily involved in the development of the new online B.A.S. in Exercise Science, Herda said she’s excited to offer these types of traditionally lab-based, "hands-on" classes through virtual labs.

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