Kinesiology Doctoral Program Earns Top Rankings
The Kinesiology Department has earned a top ranking in two different studies released in the fall of 2010. The National Research Council (NRC) findings, which provide a range rather than a specific numeric ranking, rated the department as high as first, second or third in the country. The National Academy of Kinesiology (NAK, formerly the American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education) reaffirmed the Kinesiology Department’s place as a top-tier program nationally with a number 5 overall ranking.
The two studies took different approaches in evaluating the programs, but both reached the same conclusion – the Kinesiology program at UMass Amherst is among the best in the nation. The NRC used data collected over a one-year period in 2006 and used two different methodologies to compile its ranged rankings. The NAK study, on the other hand, examined data collected over a five-year period from 2005-2009 to determine its overall scores. The new ranking from NAK is consistent with findings from its previous study, conducted using data from 2000-2004, confirming the Kinesiology Department’s status as a top-tier program for over a decade.
Patty Freedson, Chair of the Department of Kinesiology, attributes the high marks in both studies to several factors, most notably an engaged, research-oriented faculty. “We have a tremendously productive faculty who consistently publish in peer-reviewed journals. The faculty has been very productive in terms of receiving external funds from federal agencies, private foundations and corporations.”
With recent grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, the Multiple Sclerosis Consortium and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, it’s clear that the department’s emphasis on grant productivity is paying off. The faculty, Freedson notes, is strong across the board.
“It’s not just one or two faculty members doing this,” says Freedson. “It’s all of them. And that’s what I see as being the major difference between our program and many others.”
The department’s strengths, as noted in both the NRC and NAK evaluations, are not limited to research productivity. The program earned strong marks for its student support. “Every single graduate student in our program, from Master’s to PhD students, is funded through either teaching assistantships or research assistantships from grants.”
Marjorie Aelion, Dean of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, notes that the department is strong on levels than cannot be found in the NRC and NAK reports. “What the data do not measure are the intangible qualities that make Kinesiology an excellent department. Kinesiology has created an environment of mutual respect and collegiality among its faculty, staff and students. The undergraduate program has grown at a fast rate and is currently three times larger than any other department in the SPHHS. Kinesiology faculty members are research-active, carry out high-level research and are committed to their undergraduate and graduate students.”
Freedson attributes the growing popularity in the kinesiology major to a number of factors. “It’s an excellent major for students interested in medicine, physical therapy, occupational therapy, or who wish to become chiropractors or physician’s assistants. Anyone interested in a career in the health care fields will benefit. I think another reason, as you see in the media almost every day, is the health benefits of exercise are consistent and evident in every walk of life. There’s a big focus on preventive medicine, of which physical activity and exercise play a large part.”
The Kinesiology Department continues to excel nationally despite rapid growth in the field and subsequent increased development and investment in kinesiology programs across the country. In addition to research and teaching excellence, it also is building partnerships with corporations such as Cybex International, which recently provided the department with 22 new pieces of equipment valued at $120,000 in order to upgrade the department’s Body Shop. The Kinesiology Department will use this equipment to conduct research and carry out product-testing.
Strong relationships between faculty and alumni helped to forge the deal. “Cybex is a Massachusetts company,” Freedson says, “and Paul Juris (‘86G), the executive director of the Cybex Institute for Exercise Science, which is their research and education arm, is a graduate of our program.”
As Freedson notes, “If we consider that the goal of the department is to improve our ranking, to move from a top-five to a top-three program, then obviously investments in the department need to be made. These evaluations from the NRC and NAK show we are one of the top kinesiology programs in the country and that we are extremely competitive with our peer institutions. I’m hopeful that these kinds of objective assessments will result in an increased commitment to our program, not only to help keep us in the upper tier but also to help us continue to rise in the rankings.”
Given the department’s track record and its commitment to research productivity and its students, it’s safe to say that the Department of Kinesiology will remain a top-tier program for a long time to come.