Exercise science students develop tools to foster mental and physical health

Students of Lecturer in Exercise Science Liz Bailey are incorporating service learning to affect change in Burlington and beyond.

Bolaji Oshin ’21 (left) incorporates a short, high-intensity workout in his video, which targets middle school- and high school-aged students who are spending a lot of time at home now.

While weathering the “stay-at-home” orders resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, students in Lecturer in Exercise Science Liz Bailey’s Exercise and Intervention class are working to help others combat the resulting struggles. They understand that people can isolate and become depressed when they are stuck inside and don’t know what to do.

In their final class projects, these students are offering a solution — start moving.

Each student is creating materials for a particular demographic — older adults, young children or clients with limited mobility, for example —  and then building tailored activities to increase mental and physical fitness. Initially, each student was planning to work directly within a sector of the Burlington community. Now they’re creating materials that require no personal interaction, like YouTube videos and printed workbooks. They’re basing their programs on skills they’ve learned in previous exercise science classes and current research and academic literature.

Rachel Blackman ’20 films an exercise video that encourages college students to get outside and exercise.

Elon’s Department of Exercise Science is using service-learning to infuse its curriculum with opportunities for students to apply course material in a community context. This initiative gained momentum when a group of faculty members participated in the Academic Service-Learning Faculty Fellows program. Now Bailey’s Exercise and Intervention course is the department’s first designated service-learning offering.

“Basically we believe that students can derive greater learning from academic content if they can connect it with personal experience and real-life circumstances,” Bailey said. “By applying exercise science course material in a community context and reflecting on the experience, students can understand the ways that physical activity is inherent to improving health and quality of life, while also developing cultural competence and communication skills.”

Both Christian Chybrzynski ’21 and classmate Rachel Blackman ’20 have shifted the focus of their projects to their peers, creating videos encouraging college students to get outside and exercise. They recognize the challenges that may arise as their peers are learning remotely. Drawing on research and interviews, they’ve created workouts they believe will be helpful.

“Multiple research sources show even a minute or two of light physical activity every half hour to an hour of sitting can have significant health benefits,” Chybrzynski said.

Blackman agrees, noting that accessibility is also key. She initially planned to work with a former client of the H.O.P.E. clinic, a pro bono health clinic operated by Elon Doctor of Physical Therapy students. The client is paraplegic and has limited mobility, so Blackman was mindful about incorporating modifications that can suit a variety of physical abilities when making her video.

Christine McGowen ’21 and Mackenzie F. McLaughlin ’21 designed an activity book for residents at Burlington Homes.

Aleasha Garrison ’08 is the service coordinator at Burlington Homes, a residential facility for senior adults that’s part of the Burlington Housing Authority. She’s currently working with two of Bailey’s students, Christine McGowen ’21 and Mackenzie McLaughlin ’21, who have designed an activity book using Garrison’s input about what the residents enjoy. It begins by asking clients to rate their mood, takes them through mental and physical exercises and ends with a final mood assessment.

“I just love it,” Garrison said. “The goal is to improve happiness and ability to cope during COVID-19. It gives them something to do while they’re spending time alone, and the chair stretches and large-print crossword puzzles are their favorites. I’m even using mindful meditation worksheet for myself.”

Bailey had set a goal for her students to gain these types of experiences, and she’s seeing evidence surface in their written reflections.

“Ideally the students are working with clients who are different than them, so they’re learning cultural competence as well as confidence in themselves,” Bailey said. “Practicing professional communication skills is also so important. When you’re leading someone, asking them to do something, you have to speak clearly and confidently, explaining what is important and why. They’re learning to motivate while being succinct.”

Bolaji Oshin ’21, an exercise science major, was planning to partner with the Dream Center in Burlington and work with children there. Although he was looking forward to making community connections through the class, he’s embracing his new audience of middle school- and high school-aged students who are spending all of their time at home. He’s working with family friends, collaborating with parents he knows.

“Parents don’t want their kids sitting inside just playing on computers all day,” Oshin said. “I’m finding a way for kids to work out at least a little every day while they’re at home. I feel good about my workout; it’s short but it’s hard. I could see it really making a change for people.”