The Bakersfield Californian

CSUB set to graduate its first kinesiolog­y master’s degree candidates

- BY JENNIFER SELF

Even as a standout athlete, Jesenia Nieves didn’t get much respect in PE class growing up.

“I felt like all the attention was directed to the male students. They were such big ball hogs. So the other girls and I, rather than being in the activities, would walk the court instead.”

After completing a study on gender’s role in exercise, Nieves now has the research to back up her first-hand observatio­ns.

And even more important: She will have the power to ensure all students feel included when she becomes a physical education teacher herself, thanks to the master’s degree in kinesiolog­y she will receive at CSUB’s Fall 2021 Commenceme­nt Ceremony on Dec. 16 at Mechanics Banks Arena.

For the first time ever, CSUB will confer two master of science degrees in kinesiolog­y, a health discipline that prepares profession­als for fields like physical therapy, personal training, teaching, community wellness, coaching, nutrition and much

more.

Nieves and Halle Meadows, both of whom enrolled in the fall of 2020 when the master’s courses began, will be the first of the 19 students in the 18-month online program to earn their master’s degrees in the field.

“It feels pretty cool,” said Meadows, who already has accepted a teaching position at Southweste­rn Oregon Community College in Coos Bay, Ore., where she also is coaching soccer. “I’m just so excited to use my knowledge and education to help people understand how important it is to take care of our bodies.”

The addition of a master’s degree program in kinesiolog­y was the result of a lengthy and rigorous process at the university, said kinesiolog­y professor Kris Grappendor­f, who was instrument­al in developing the program.

The impetus for the new degree was simple: The region needs more health and wellness profession­als, and several community members reached out to CSUB and asked the university to help.

“Our area has among the poorest health outcomes in the state, and we are an aging population,” Grappendor­f said. “CSUB sees it as our mission to provide a workforce to address those issues.”

Dr. Vernon Harper, provost and vice president for academic affairs at CSUB, said the kinesiolog­y master’s degree is just one of many new opportunit­ies available to students across the entire university, in discipline­s that range from public health, to agricultur­al business, to entreprene­urship, the arts and beyond.

“CSUB is growing, and not just in the numbers of students, faculty and staff,” he said. “We are expanding the boundaries of what is possible if we are audacious enough to dream it. With the support of our community, we are rising every minute of every day.”

‘RESEARCH … OPENED MY MIND’

Meadows, 28, was a student in the undergradu­ate kinesiolog­y program at CSUB when her professors posed an interestin­g question: What would you want in a master’s degree program?

“I said to dive deeper into informatio­n and research,” she recalled.

She got her wish.

For their research as part of the master’s program, both she and Nieves explored questions that stemmed from their days as scholar athletes. The pandemic tested their resourcefu­lness when the students were forced to pivot after in-person research became impossible.

For her research on gender difference­s as a predictor for exercise behavior, Nieves originally intended to focus on high school students but switched to college students, who were easier to access. Meadows’ research explores whether core strength and stability influence the accuracy of a soccer shot.

“I’m super proud of Halle’s work,” said Dr. Brittany Sanchez, who teaches in the undergradu­ate and graduate kinesiolog­y programs. “She has always been very inquisitiv­e and engaged, even when she was an undergrad. She loves this field.”

Nieves, who earned her bachelor’s degree in kinesiolog­y from CSU East Bay in 2020, said she had never had the opportunit­y to do research before enrolling in the master’s program at CSUB.

“The whole process was new to me, so I learned a lot. I think that research, in general, opened my mind to look at things from a different perspectiv­e.”

CSUB recently sent four students to the annual Southwest American College of Sports Medicine conference in Costa Mesa, where they presented their research.

“It’s such a great opportunit­y for them to network and see what everybody is doing,” Sanchez said. “What I want to see is us being able to really start developing our research agendas, and collaborat­ions are very important to me. We’re starting to bring in faculty with different specialtie­s within kinesiolog­y, and that’s the really exciting part.”

Dr. Zachary Zenko, assistant professor of kinesiolog­y and director of the master’s program, is Nieves’ faculty mentor.

“I’m so proud of Jesenia and that we are graduating our first students from the master’s program. Now we have a steady stream of incoming students and students making steady progress toward a degree in the program. Personally, this is my first graduating master’s student that I’m mentoring. I’m always going to remember this moment.”

‘WHERE DO WE WANT TO GO NEXT?’

When Grappendor­f arrived at CSUB in 1998, there were three faculty members and 121 students in what was then called the physical education program. A decade later, the number of students had nearly doubled, and by 2016-17, there were 424 students.

“We’re now hovering around 500 students and 12 faculty,” said Grappendor­f, who attributes the surging numbers to the growing need for a workforce to serve a region chronicall­y under-represente­d in health and wellness profession­s.

“It has always been a part of our discussion­s as a department: Where do we want to go next?” said Grappendor­f, who noted the decision was made to offer the program online.

“But kinesiolog­y is a lot about human movement and the study of that, so how could we do it all online? We’re really comfortabl­e with the quality of our curriculum.

And Zenko noted that there are opportunit­ies for in-person interactio­ns.

“It’s important to acknowledg­e students can come to campus to collect data and use our lab and classroom spaces,” he said. “There are opportunit­ies for in-person, hands-on data collection.”

The program was developed so that a student could complete it in 18 months, over four semesters.

“It’s really crazy hard for me to believe we did it,” said Nieves, 24, who enrolled in CSUB’s online program after being referred by staff at Cal State East Bay as she was completing her bachelor’s degree.

“I don’t want to say I sacrificed my social life because I did hang out with friends,” she said. “But most of my time was structured around school. I had my iPad and it went with me everywhere.”

THE FIRST JOURNEY ACROSS THAT STAGE

Beyond being the first two kinesiolog­y master’s graduates at CSUB, Meadows and Nieves share another bond: Neither participat­ed in their undergradu­ate commenceme­nt ceremonies — Nieves because COVID-19 postponed graduation and Meadows because she finished her degree in the fall and didn’t want to return in the spring.

“I’m really excited,” said Nieves, noting that she has a lot of family in Bakersfiel­d.

Meadows, who will return to her hometown on a soccer scouting trip, has an additional motivation for participat­ing in commenceme­nt: “My mom threatened me if I didn’t!”

Both students said they couldn’t have graduated on time without the help of their professors.

“A big thank you to Dr. Zenko,” Nieves said. “I wouldn’t be one of the first ones to graduate if it wasn’t for him. He provided a timeline, and I wouldn’t have made it without one.”

Sanchez has had a frontrow seat for Meadows’ journey throughout college, making the moment an emotional one for the professor, who began her teaching career at CSUB.

“Halle was in my very first exercise physiology class in 2017 when I first walked into the classroom scared to death. She was in my very first cohort of undergradu­ate students. I’m just so proud of her.”

 ?? JUAN RODRIGUEZ / CSUB ?? CSUB has a number of research opportunit­ies available to both undergradu­ate and graduate students. In this photo from 2019, student Maria Santana measures the psychologi­cal responses to exercise with Tyler Moffit.
JUAN RODRIGUEZ / CSUB CSUB has a number of research opportunit­ies available to both undergradu­ate and graduate students. In this photo from 2019, student Maria Santana measures the psychologi­cal responses to exercise with Tyler Moffit.
 ?? COURTESY OF JESSICA NIEVES ?? Jesenia Nieves was able to earn the CSUB kinesiolog­y master’s from her home in Hayward because the program is entirely online. “I like the fact that you can go as fast as you want. I worked hard because I wanted to finish in 18 months,” she said.
COURTESY OF JESSICA NIEVES Jesenia Nieves was able to earn the CSUB kinesiolog­y master’s from her home in Hayward because the program is entirely online. “I like the fact that you can go as fast as you want. I worked hard because I wanted to finish in 18 months,” she said.
 ?? COURTESY OF HALLE MEADOWS ?? Halle Meadows completed her bachelor’s degree in kinesiolog­y at CSUB and now is one of the first to graduate with a master’s degree in kinesiolog­y from the university.
COURTESY OF HALLE MEADOWS Halle Meadows completed her bachelor’s degree in kinesiolog­y at CSUB and now is one of the first to graduate with a master’s degree in kinesiolog­y from the university.

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