Drop and Give Me 100

The Department of Health and Kinesiology celebrates its centennial

Story by Chris Adam, photo provided

Above: Women’s gym floor exercise circa 1950.

What began more than a century ago as an initiative to increase the physical well-being of Purdue students has turned into an academic department focused on improving lives through healthy lifestyles.

The storied history of the Department of Health and Kinesiology began in 1916 with the creation of a department of physical education. The program provided for men’s intercollegiate and intramural athletics, including the teaching of sports skills and the training of future coaches. In 1923, a similar department was created for women with a primary focus on hygiene.

The departments merged in 1976 — and the academic strength and reputation of the combined department has been growing ever since.

“We have long had a unique program here at Purdue, one that really began academically with movement science,” says Tim Gavin, professor and department head of health and kinesiology. “We were then the first university in the nation to shift the focus to the science side of human movement with such disciplines as biomechanics.”

The pioneering program was the first in the country to receive accreditation for a formal curriculum in athletic training and created the country’s first degree in movement and sport sciences.

Larry Leverenz, clinical professor and director of athletic training education, says the department has evolved from a physical activity focus to a comprehensive department that deals with health-related issues and practical solutions to help the American population.

Research ranges from identifying social risks for youth obesity to addressing pregnancy-specific issues to understanding how activity affects the human body at the cellular level.

“Our faculty members have different interests, but we collaborate well to feed off each other's energies,” Leverenz says. “We are consistently asking how we can apply what we learn in research to real-world situations.”

Each semester, the department has 25-35 undergraduate students formally engaged in research. The opportunities range from novel therapeutics for improving balance in patients with neurological disorders to entrepreneur-based activities such as students creating their own businesses.

Gavin says, “We do very well at engaging our undergrads in research areas across campus. They have opportunities you would struggle to find at comparable research institutions.”

Many departments have come and gone over the years, but adaptability has allowed Purdue to remain at the forefront of the field, says Darlene Sedlock, associate professor. “Our adaptability allows us to be creative in order to stay ahead in our research and academic programs.”

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