From the desk of President Leslie K. Guice

Rhonda Boyd: And the beat goes on

Jun 17, 2014 | Guest Feature

rhonda_boyd

Rhonda Boyd

In the Spring of 1986, a recent graduate of the Louisiana Tech College of Business returned to Tech seeking teaching certification in Business and Physical Education while working part time at Green Clinic assisting the Clinical Research Coordinator.  Midway through the quarter, one of the Health and Physical Education professors made it a point to ask this student how classes and work were going. The student told the professor that she had been hired to do community presentations to inform the public about a clinical trial of a new medication to treat influenza in older people.  The professor suggested that she should talk to the classes in the Senior Citizen Exercise Program.  Having never heard of the program the student eagerly contacted those teaching the classes and made arrangements to attend.  Upon arrival at the first class, the teacher insisted that she participate in the class before the presentation.  The student, who was somewhat shy, reluctantly agreed, later to find that this is where her life and career path changed forever. Why and how you may ask?  What the student realized that day was what they were destined to do:  work with older people.  In fact the student loved it so much, she did three practicums in the program. A professor took an interest and took the time to talk to her and offer help. A teacher shared their passion, excitement and joy they had working with older people. Because of those teacher’s influences, the student went on to get her Masters of Education in Exercise Science and Post Baccalaureate Certification in Gerontology.  She eventually made her way back to Louisiana Tech to become the Director of the Adult Fitness Program.  You see, that life that was profoundly changed was mine. My name is Rhonda Boyd.
After 5 Fitness Class

After 5 Fitness Class

The Department of Kinesiology’s Adult Fitness Program began in 1978 when the state of Louisiana passed legislation whereby any adult age 55 or older could enroll in a three-hour credit course and have the tuition waived.  The program, which this past fall quarter had 273 students enrolled, offers two water exercise classes, three group activity classes and an after-five fitness class which includes powerwalking, circuit training, strength training and balance activities.  The participants range in age from 55 to 94.  Three faculty members in the Department of Kinesiology serve as instructors in the program; Smiley Reeves (who also did her practicum in the program as a student), Jessica Szymanski and myself.  This program not only offers quality exercise programs for older adults in Ruston and surrounding communities but it provides a very important social outlet.  Another perk of the program is that the older adult actually becomes a Tech student with access to the Tech campus and facilities including the Lambright Intramural and Wellness Center, athletic events and many other events on campus. Sometimes it is easy to take a stellar program such as this for granted, not realizing that Louisiana Tech is only one of a handful of universities in the United States with such an offering.  When I travel to conferences across the country, colleagues are amazed at the longevity and continuity of our program.  As we demonstrate the activities that are part of our program, they are amazed at the intensity level our workouts afford. We are constantly refining the program to meet not only group needs but individual needs of our participants.  This is due to a unique generation of which I am a part, the ‘Baby Boomers.’  I can honestly say that a 65-year old is different today than twenty five years ago in their activity level, expectations and attitudes. So we constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the program.
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Rhonda with colleagues and students at commencement

As great as the program is as a source of exercise and social connection, I believe one of the greatest things about the program is the connection it creates between the older adults and the Kinesiology students.  As part of the curriculum of the Kinesiology/Health Promotion degree (with over 350 majors), all majors are required to do a one-hour practicum in the Adult Fitness Program (yes, just like Smiley and I did!).  Many of these students will go on to physical therapy, occupational therapy, and physician assistant professional schools.  Other students will become personal trainers, athletic trainers, chiropractors, or do pharmaceutical or medical equipment sales, just to name a few of the career options available to these majors. In Kinesiology 406, Health Aspects of Aging, I tell the students going into allied health fields or those pursuing personal training that unless they are going to specialize in pediatrics or athletics, the Baby Boomers are going to be their clientele.  Many of the students have never worked hands-on with older adults.  The practicum gives them this much needed experience as they not only attend the class and work with a master teacher, but they learn to lead and teach the class as well, three days a week for an entire quarter.  It is so rewarding to see those somewhat shy students on the first day develop into confident teachers by the end of the quarter, interacting with older adults as if they have known them forever. This experience changes the student’s preconceived attitudes and prejudices they may have toward older people which in turn will help them to be more sensitive healthcare professionals and caregivers for their own parents/grandparents.
Spring Commencement 2014

Spring Commencement 2014

As I sat at the Spring 2014 graduation as a faculty member, I looked at the graduating Kinesiology majors and thought about how fortunate I was to teach and serve as their practicum teacher.  I thought about how they matured during their college experience and that they “get” what it takes to work with older people. I thought about the privilege and opportunity I had to share my passion with them.  Later in the day, while looking at Facebook, I saw the pictures of several of our former students graduating from PT/OT school.  I could not help but be proud thinking how far those young professionals have come since that first day they set foot in their practicum.
Rhonda & Les

Rhonda and Les at Joe Aillet Stadium

A couple of days ago I was sharing with a friend who is a new member of the Adult Fitness Program about the future plans of the practicum students  that were in her class this past quarter. She made the comment about the wonderful legacy we are creating for our students.  I told her about my first experience with the Adult Fitness Program all those years ago to which she replied, “and the beat goes on…” And so it does.

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