Ellen Evans, a professor of kinesiology and director of UGA’s Center for Physical Activity and Health, empowers students to model healthy movement behaviors and motivate others through education and social support in their families, schools, workplaces and communities.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University in physical education/fitness, my master’s degree from the University of Illinois in exercise physiology, and my Ph.D. from UGA in exercise physiology. I also completed a postdoctoral research fellowship in geriatrics and gerontology at Washington University School of Medicine. My primary responsibilities within the department of kinesiology in the College of Education are research and teaching; however, I also serve as the coordinator of the Exercise and Sport Science Program and the director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health. Additionally, I am an adjunct professor in the department of foods and nutrition in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and an affiliate with the Institute of Gerontology in the College of Public Health here at UGA.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
After serving on the University of Illinois faculty for nine years, I came back to my alma mater, UGA, in 2010, when this unique position became available. In truth, I had been waiting and hoping for the opportunity to return to UGA. Although I was raised and educated in the Midwest, Athens has always felt like home to me.
What are your favorite courses and why?
All of the courses I teach are my favorites, but if I had to pick some that are special it would be KINS 2500 “Exercise is Medicine” and KINS 4320/6320 “Exercise and Aging,” both of which are regular offerings in the department of kinesiology. I have also developed First-Year Odyssey seminars for both courses. These two courses highlight my interest in habitual human movement–inclusive of exercise, physical activity and reduced sedentary time–as a key health behavior for successful aging.
What interests you about your field?
The overarching goal of my research program is to create and disseminate knowledge regarding the importance of habitual exercise and appropriate nutrition for optimal body composition and as it relates to health status, with a special interest in aging and women’s health. However, absolutely everything that has to do with human movement interests me. Although I am trained as an applied and clinical exercise physiologist, I often collaborate with scholars who have expertise in nutrition, psychology and human behavior, and bio-imaging.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
Instead of having one big highlight of my career, I am grateful to have daily highlights here at UGA. In truth, 99.9% of the time while driving to campus from my home, which is out in the country on the Oconee River, I recognize how fortunate I am to work at UGA and live in Athens. This is a special academic place in that while we are on a mission in the department of kinesiology to maintain our top five Ph.D. program and productivity rankings, this quest is never at the expense of delivering our contemporary, student-centered curriculum. Additionally, the work culture within the department of kinesiology and the College of Education consistently demonstrates interpersonal respect and embraces diversity, broadly defined to include work style and contribution. Indeed, we are a happy faculty here in kinesiology; full of joy enacting our mission and playing out our professional passions!
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
My contributions to UGA are directly aligned with the land grant institution’s mission of research, teaching and public service, and they certainly all interact in a reciprocal manner. Decades of research has documented the effectiveness of physical activity and exercise to enhance health. The next frontier is to develop effective and sustainable interventions and programs to assist individuals in their quest to manage their personal behavior on a daily basis in the context of their own families, schools, workplaces and communities. Indeed, the future of my research program and planned grant proposals will center on this theme.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
Most bachelor’s and master’s students in my classes are striving to become allied health practitioners (e.g. physical therapists, clinical exercise physiologists) or programmers (e.g. fitness directors). Beyond the fundamental basics of the mechanisms of how exercise/physical activity enhances health and the guidelines for safety and exercise prescription, I want to empower my students to go into the world and become change agents with regard to human movement. It is my goal that students will model healthy movement behaviors and motivate others through education and social support in their families, schools, workplaces and communities.
Describe your ideal student…
My ideal student is one who is engaged in the course content, demonstrates respect and empathy for me and others in the classroom, and is excited to learn. The best students are less concerned with their letter grade and are more interested in knowing how to apply the course content in their personal and professional lives. I also really enjoy the student who takes self-responsibility for their learning. Students who challenge me are a bonus.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
My favorite thing to do on campus is walking as active transportation, a primary component of physical activity, anywhere on our beautiful campus, especially in the springtime! Our walkable campus is a huge asset to help meet the public health recommendation of 10,000 steps per day. Did you know that walking from the Ramsey Student Center to the Miller Learning Center is ~2,500 steps one way? (Yes, I wore a pedometer!)
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
In the off hours I like to be in motion, preferably outdoors and away from a computer screen. Certainly spending quality time with my husband and two children is a high priority, if I can get them in motion too. On weekends you will find me working on never-ending home improvement projects, walking our dogs, cycling on the roads of Oconee County, and at the barn scooping (horse manure) and playing with the horses. Being extroverted and highly social, I am often hosting parties or enjoying the local establishments in Athens.
Community/civic involvement includes…
In my role as director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health, community engagement is inherent in my outreach mission. Moreover, as described above, my research program, with its transitional scope, is by definition in the community. With my heavy professional load and a young family, admittedly, I have not personally committed to much community or civic involvement. I plan to change this as I enter the next stages of my life. Indeed, I strongly believe that social connection is another key to successful aging. On my radar is participation in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (check it out at olli.uga.edu).
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
I rarely if ever watch TV or movies, except when multi-tasking (e.g. ironing), but I am an avid reader, especially of nonfiction. My favorite movie to date is “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which is essentially about successful aging from an emotional perspective. Take home point = let the past go. Any movie that makes you both laugh and cry is a serious score in my opinion. My favorite book to date is “Aging Well” by George Vaillant, which is based on the Harvard Study of Adult Development. A great quote is “If I’d known I’d live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.” Finally, a recent thought-provoking book is “Get Up! Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It,” by James Levine, which focuses on our extremely sedentary lifestyles and how this negatively influences our mental and physical health. I used to dislike my office chair, now I hate it.
Proudest moment at UGA?
The best part of my UGA experience is student development. I am a lucky and grateful woman, as I have many proud moments here at UGA and they are all related to my “lab kids.” Any time my Ph.D. student obtains an academic position or postdoctoral research fellowship, or my master’s student gets accepted to a Ph.D. program or obtains a great job, or my undergraduates tell me that they are now employed or were accepted into graduate school, typically a physical therapy program, I am one proud Lab Mom! One hundred years from now it will not matter how much grant funding I obtained or the impact factor of the journals in which I publish. What will matter most is that my mentoring made a difference and the world is a better place because of my lab kids.
Is there anything else you’d like to add? (Other pertinent information to share)
As the director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health, I am the lead of the UGA Exercise Is Medicine on Campus Team. You can learn more about The Exercise is Medicine Initiative here: exerciseismedicine.org. We are planning our official launch to the UGA community in Fall 2015. Watch for us as we will be on a mission to get this campus moving! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to get involved!