PE Courses Cut Stress, Add Skills
Department of Physical Education Director Steve VanKanegan and Administrative Assistant Amber Harris demonstrate proper weight training technique. Photo credit Taylor Foust.

PE Courses Cut Stress, Add Skills

An emphasis on high-quality programming and instruction fuels a decade of growth in the Department of Physical Education.
ByRebecca Dorman

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 this 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 how to 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 PE classes offer the perfect outlet for exercise and stress release while still fitting in with their 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 PE classes during the course of the 2008-09 academic year.

This trend distinguishes USC from other universities where lack of funding has severely limited PE curriculum, according to Director of Physical Education Steve VanKanegan. “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, is attributable to the department’s focus on high-quality faculty and staff. “We have made a point of hiring nothing but qualified, energetic, passionate people,” he said. As a result, USC students from all majors and interests gravitate to PE to round out their schedules, choosing from the department’s wide selection of one- and two-unit courses.

Classes taught by highly-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 PE experience as a USC graduate student helped her overcome her fear and 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 PE classes are taken for elective credit, USC students’ choice to add a unit of physical education to their 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 further down the road just to maintain a healthier lifestyle,” said VanKanegan.

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 constantly 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. As a department, physical education recognizes the importance of balancing fitness and fun, making classes educational as well as enjoyable for students.

VanKanegan and the physical education faculty have built their department’s appeal around a simple concept: By incorporating quality physical education into their curriculum, college students can manage stress and improve their focus while laying a foundation that will enrich the rest of their lives.

“If you feel better about yourself, you definitely perform better in all aspects of life,” Harris said. The steady 10-year growth pattern of the Department of Physical Education is a real indicator that USC students agree.