By Marlee Kobzej
It’s quiet after hours at South Denver Cardiology Associates Wellness Gym, and Professor Joe Quatrochi’s Comparative Fitness class is taking a tour with Metropolitan State University of Denver alumna Christine Wetzig. The 20 or so students are gathered around Wetzig, listening intently as she describes her job as an exercise specialist at this small gym.
“Really, there’s a million things: There’s personal training, group exercise instruction, exercise prescription, getting gym clearances, working with medical histories, scheduling cardiac rehab, managing the gym in general,” she says. “But the best thing is the clientele at our facility. They appreciate our facility, respect our staff and are eager to learn how to live healthier lives. It is fun and challenging to help clients to find ways to integrate physical activity into their lives.”
The students nod in understanding. This isn’t the first time this semester they’ve visited a wellness facility, and it won’t be the last. The Comparative Fitness class was designed to introduce students who are pursuing a degree in exercise science at MSU Denver to myriad career paths, so each semester Quatrochi and his students tour about 10 agencies, each hitting on a different specialization. The class is a precursor to the students’ required internships, so it helps them decide where to pursue an internship.
“I wanted to expose students to the array of possibilities for internships and employment in exercise science,” says Quatrochi, Ph.D. “There are so many agencies where people with these degrees are needed.”
Niche markets such as cardiac rehabilitation; physical therapy; strength and conditioning at the private, collegiate and high school levels; municipal recreation; senior fitness; worksite health promotion; and special-populations fitness are all trending toward hiring people with degrees instead of those with just a personal-training certificate that can be completed online.
The impetus behind designing the class, Quatrochi says, was that the only career path students were thinking about was personal training, and many expressed hesitation or frustration in that being the sole option. He realized that he needed to introduce students to the variety of options available to exercise-science graduates. So he contacted his network, community partners and MSU Denver exercise-science program alumni, such as Wetzig, to set up tours.
Tami Schlieman is another graduate of the program who gives tours and is adamant about the benefits of the class.
“I think the Comparative Fitness class is the missing link between college and career choices. I learned about careers that I never would have considered nor frankly knew existed because of the course. It was invaluable to my undergraduate experience as well as my future career,” says Schlieman, who works at Foothills Park and Recreation District and has never taken a semester off from giving tours to the class.
Laura Wright, a self-proclaimed lifelong exercise and nutrition nerd, is a senior in the exercise-science program, and the class has gotten her excited for her future.
“The class has shown me the potential of all the things we can do with our degrees,” she says. “It’s been very eye-opening. I’ve loved it.”
Wright will look to fulfill her internship requirement next spring.
While the class has done its fair share of introducing students to careers where a bachelor’s degree will suffice, it has pushed some students to realize they want to take their education a bit further. When Aaron Ittner started the exercise-science degree with a minor in nutrition, he wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do. But it became clearer as time went on that he didn’t want to stop with a bachelor’s.
“The experience I’m getting will be a great complement to my future goals,” he says.
Ittner is scheduled to graduate next fall and wants to pursue a master’s degree in nutrition with an ultimate goal of becoming a registered dietitian nutritionist.
Results of the class have been nothing but positive. Quatrochi said students are happier with their degree choice, graduates are well-prepared for being hired for a permanent position, and those who are moving on to a master’s program have working knowledge in the field.
This program exemplifies why MSU Denver graduates are steps ahead when it comes to workforce and graduate-school preparedness. Additionally, the network of alumni in the field is diversified across all specializations all over the country. If you’re a gym rat working with a personal trainer, in rehab because of a medical condition following an exercise prescription written by an exercise specialist or participate in a wellness program designed by a worksite wellness consultant, you may be working with an MSU Denver exercise-science graduate.
Back at the Wellness Gym, Wetzig shares some hard truths with the students.
“It’s not all glamorous,” she says. “In between helping clients on the machines, or doing exercise prescriptions or leading group fitness classes, I fold towels, clean machines, do paperwork.”
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