Programs Target Playing Field, Stage, and More
by Kara Sokol
One focuses on stage movement, the other on how the human body moves. So what could theater and exercise science degree programs have in common?
More, it turns out, than meets the eye.
The one-year-old BS in Exercise Science and the new BA in Theater and Electronic Media Performance are opening eyes to new academic and career possibilities at Michigan Tech. Though their subject matter may differ, both programs share a mission: to provide students with discovery-based learning opportunities in Michigan Tech’s practical and innovative educational style.
When the new exercise science degree program launched in fall 2006, Jason Carter, chair of the exercise science, health and physical education department, thought his goal was a lofty one: twenty students enrolled during the first year, with 100 percent growth each academic year thereafter.
Enrollment for the program’s initial semester reached thirty-five and grew to approximately fifty by fall 2007. And the enrollment surge shows no sign of abating.
“Exercise science is officially the fastest growing major on campus,” says Carter.
Sometimes called kinesiology, exercise science focuses on the physiology and mechanics of human movement. The bachelor’s degree program offered at Tech prepares students to pursue advanced degrees in physical therapy, occupational therapy, medicine, and more. For those who want to put their bachelor’s degrees right to work, the program also prepares students for jobs in cardiac rehabilitation, strength coaching, and personal training, with no advanced degrees required.
“Exercise science really is a very applied field,” explains Carter. “It combines science theory with hands-on research, bridging a variety of other disciplines from biology to psychology. Students in this major have available to them an incredible variety of career pathways.”
So why is the study of human movement a good fit for Michigan Tech? With a curriculum that is among the most scientifically rigorous in Michigan, Carter believes that the program is a natural for the University.
“A degree from Michigan Tech means a lot, and it’s important that we uphold that reputation,” says Carter. “With our well-rounded curriculum, focus on technology-based learning, and an unlimited variety of available internships, I am confident that we are meeting the University’s standards in preparing our students to create the future.”
While the program is still in its early stages of growth, the future of exercise science at Tech looks exceedingly bright. The fall 2007 semester saw the launch of a new BS in Health and Physical Education, which is already showing an impressive surge in popularity.
And, in addition to stabilizing enrollment for the two current programs, the department’s longer-range goal is to develop the first regional physical therapy doctorate program.
Exciting changes are also afoot in the visual and performing arts department as they prepare to launch a new degree program in theater and electronic media performance. Set to debut in fall 2008, the program promises to be an innovative new option for students interested in performance careers.
“The program’s goal is simple: to produce working actors,” explains Roger Held, chair of Michigan Tech’s visual and performing arts department. “It’s different from what we currently offer because it’s made for performance students rather than technicians.”
In keeping with Michigan Tech’s standards of technologically based learning, the new degree program will provide practical education in a variety of “nontraditional” performance media, including voice work, instructional and industrial video, gaming, and more. While other academic theater programs usually focus on stage work, Held says this is not the best way to train actors for stable careers.
“The entertainment industry is one of the top-ten growth industries in the world, but the number of star performers isn’t growing a bit,” explains Held. “The reality is that fifty percent of an artist’s work comes from nontraditional, or non-stage, kinds of jobs. Most academic programs don’t focus on these, which means they are not meeting the needs of the average student. We want to change that.”
Another significant advantage of the program, according to Held, will be its size. While most programs cater to eighty or more actors, Tech’s program is designed for twenty to thirty, with the initial goal of five to seven students per year. The smaller the enrollment, the more stage time each student will receive.
“The additional stage time combined with the diversity of learning opportunities make this a unique program,” said Held. “It will provide students with an amazing breadth of experience and ultimately allow them to work smarter and be more successful.”