Dr. Chad Harris

From the ground up

For a good part of this summer, Dr. Chad Harris found himself in the midst of chaos. And he could not have been happier.

Surrounded by boxes of equipment in the former Simpson Fitness Room in Mariotti Gym, the chair of the new Exercise Science and Physical Education Department carefully mapped out where he wanted everything to go.

Building a new program from the ground up is a challenge he relishes.

“I did something very similar at my last job at Western New Mexico University,” he says. “I developed an Exercise Science program there and directed it for five years before getting the opportunity to come to LaGrange and do the same thing here. I can’t wait to get this going and start working with the students.”

Dr. Harris calls himself a “product of the university environment.”

“My dad was an animal genetics professor at Cal Poly State University at San Luis Obispo (Calif.),” he says. “I developed a real love for the whole college environment, and knew that I wanted to continue that.”

And that’s what he did, finding his own niche in Cal Poly’s exercise science program. He continued on to earn a master’s degree in physical education from Kansas State University and a doctorate in human performance (exercise physiology/biomechanics) from Oregon State University. Most recently, he served as Dean of the School of Allied Health at Western New Mexico University.

It doesn’t take a lot to get Dr. Harris excited about Exercise Science. Just defining it brings a sparkle to his eyes.

“It covers so much more than just sports,” he says. “In general, it is how exercise affects the body – and that can be either from a clinical or a practical aspect.”

Other than coaches and trainers, graduates of the program can become physical therapists, work in cardiac rehabilitation or help older adults enhance their normal activities.

“There is also the educational part,” he says. “The obesity epidemic comes to mind here. It has become a big issue that draws attention to the influence and importance of exercise.”

The human performance applications that come into play in athletics are a big part, as well.

“We can analyze a human in motion to find ways to enhance performance. Really, Exercise Science looks at that in a realm of different ways.”

Athletes are naturally drawn to the program, he says.

“They spend so much time in conditioning and working out that they often develop an interest in the field and want to pursue it academically. The major will allow the student-athletes to have a program that matches up with their desire to be able to compete athletically but also to stay with that interest academically.”

There is also an entrepreneurial aspect.

“I encourage my students to try to understand the business side of things. It’s a major that offers students a wide range of classes and topics that will prepare them to be successful when they graduate. We want them to find that special niche within the field that really entices and excites them, and we help them pursue that.”

Dr. Harris says he also has a soft spot for working with older adults.

“At the beginning of my career, I started to work with seniors and older adults. I never envisioned that it would be an area I would like, but I ended up starting a senior research program and a senior fitness facility in Boise. It was probably the most rewarding thing that I’ve done in terms of working with people.”

But more than anything, Dr. Harris is excited at the thought of his students going on to surpass the work he has done.

“When I see students I’ve worked with going out and doing things that are certainly more than I’ve done in my career, there is just no feeling like it. I’ve now started working with former students ‘on the other side.’ Some of them I publish with and some of them I do work and share with. If our students aren’t doing a lot more than we did, then the field isn’t going to progress.”

And, he says, that is why he is here, creating an Exercise Science program.

“I want to see students find that joy and passion in what they are doing, and carry the field further than I ever could. That is my greatest reward.”

 


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