It took an extra year, but it was worth it.
After two years studying kinesiology at another university, Nora Ahmad transferred to the University of Guelph-Humber. Same program, different approach.
Not only did she gain access to hands-on labs and a field placement, but she also took part in a research project that led to her becoming co-author of a published paper – an opportunity she might not have received as an undergraduate at another school.
Now applying to medical school, Ahmad received her combined degree and diploma from Guelph-Humber this past spring. It took her five years in all, but, she says, “I’d do it all over again.”
She was part of a growing kinesiology program expected to increase overall enrolment by about one-third to about 600 students in four years, says Prof. Daniel Santa Mina, head of kinesiology.
A total of about 370 students are currently enrolled. Beginning next fall, Guelph-Humber will admit more students directly from high school. It will also increase the number of students entering third year next spring under a “bridging” program from community college programs in fitness and health promotion.
As with all Guelph-Humber programs, students receive both a university degree and a college diploma in four years – a key selling point among applicants.
“Our program is popular,” says Santa Mina. How popular? The program has routinely drawn about 700 applicants for 65 first-year spots.
“Students and their families are recognizing the benefit of dual credentials – a B.Sc. in kinesiology from the University of Guelph and a fitness and health promotion diploma from Humber College.”
He adds, “These are graduates who have documents to say, ‘I understand the theoretical underpinnings of the science and the field, and I also have tangible skills that I can apply right away.’”
Santa Mina says small class sections help students connect more closely with instructors. At the same time, a larger cohort will also allow more class sections, meaning more flexible scheduling for instructors and students.
It will also allow a “critical mass” for activities, not just in-class but extracurricular. Student societies are small, he says, and often it’s the same handful of students running many activities and events.
Courses are taught by instructors from both U of G and Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning. About half of those offerings are led by instructors from Guelph’s Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences (HHNS). Santa Mina says tenured faculty members lend the program extra weight and credibility.
“These are teachers who have a strong teaching focus,” says Santa Mina. In particular, HHNS professors Genevieve Newton and Kerry Ritchie study the scholarship of teaching and learning in exercise science.
Guelph-Humber now plans to introduce a related master’s program as soon as next year. Graduate degrees are also in the works for other academic programs at Guelph-Humber.
The new year-long program would be a master’s in biomedical science partnered with Humber’s clinical research diploma program. As well, a planned graduate certificate would enable working practitioners to upgrade their skills.
Current undergrad students get work placements worth a total of about 80 hours in third year and about 160 hours in fourth year. Those placements occur in a variety of fields, including cardiac and cancer rehab clinics, fitness facilities, varsity athletic therapy and health associations.
That experience also looks good to potential employers, says Santa Mina. “Our students will have three pieces of paper. One is a degree, the second is a diploma, the third is a nicely appointed resumé.”
Some students also pursue research projects, including Ahmad. The study she co-authored with Santa Mina appeared in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship in 2013. Ahmad spoke about the paper last fall at the Toronto Cancer Research Conference.
They studied how general physical fitness predicts outcomes after surgery. Their retrospective study looked at data from about 500 patients who underwent prostate surgery at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre Hospital in Toronto.
Men who met physical activity guidelines of the American College of Sport Medicine had better quality of life before and after surgery than those not meeting the guidelines.
Ahmad says their study was the first to connect quality of life and physical activity before surgery. Santa Mina now plans to look at the effects of “prehabilitation,” or priming patients to increase their fitness before surgery.
During her undergrad, Ahmad spent a co-op term at a chiropractic clinic, where she still volunteers. She was also involved in student government at Guelph-Humber and was president of the kinesiology society.
She and other Guelph-Humber students visited the main Guelph campus for classes in anatomy and biomechanics. “I loved the campus,” says Ahmad. “I loved the labs, everything about it.”
She’s now applying to medical school and grad school programs and hoping to land a research job at a Toronto hospital.
Having graduated from Guelph-Humber in 2013, David Field began a master’s program at Guelph this fall.
Along with Santa Mina and Newton, he’s studying the effects of exercise on prostate cancer patients undergoing cardiac rehabilitation. They will use data collected earlier at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.
He completed a diploma at Humber College in fitness and health promotion before bridging to the third year of the kinesiology program at Guelph-Humber. He liked the intimacy of small classes, although adapting to a university workload was a challenge.
Time management was the solution – one that still helps.
Besides spending two or three days a week in Guelph, he works as a fitness trainer and a physiotherapy clinician in Markham. He also tutors university and high school students in science several times a week.
While at Guelph-Humber, he worked with Newton on a literature review of the effects of cocoa polyphenols on individuals with hypertension. That work was published this year in the journal Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research.
It was during those studies that he decided to pursue medicine. “I realized I wanted to become a physician and use my knowledge to help people outside of just exercise.”