AMHERST, Mass. - Workers at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) are exercising their right to stay trim this holiday season thanks to a fitness program created by Frank N. Rife, exercise science professor at the University of Massachusetts. Workers at the FWS northeast regional headquarters in Hadley are choosing aerobics, aerobic dance, or fitness walking in a year-round, on-site exercise program run by UMass students, Rife says.
Six UMass students from the exercise science department also do periodic fitness assessments for the FWS workers, including cholesterol checks, under Rife’s supervision. "We try to keep it tailored to what the employees need," Rife says. "The aerobics classes, for example, are offered three times a day, before work starts in the morning, at noon, and at 4:30 p.m., to fit in with people’s work schedules."
Officials at the FWS like the arrangement with UMass. "We wanted to integrate the fitness program with people’s needs, and I think we have," says Edward Bajakian, the safety and occupational health manager at the FWS. "We’re very, very happy with it and a lot of our staff are getting involved." Bajakian said about one-quarter of the 200 employees at the site participate.
The fitness program, begun three years ago, is the first formal "University Partner" collaboration established by the UMass Office of Economic Development. Partnerships let the University offer local organizations expertise and access to some facilities and events in exchange for the chance to give students and staff experience in their field of study.
Spencer F. Conley, assistant regional director for external affairs at the FWS, says the agency has especially enjoyed working with the UMass students who run the various programs. He says the young people are pleasant and energetic and that staff who participate report feeling better and working more efficiently. "This has really paid off for us," Conley says. "Of all the programs we have had in this building, the exercise program is by far the best."
Rife says there are benefits for the University as well. "Our people get valuable experience in their field of study, and find out what it’s like delivering services in the real world," Rife says. The students design, manage, and run the instruction programs, honing their professional skills, giving them an advantage when entering the job market, Rife says.