Clarion U.’s New Nutrition and Fitness Degree Prepares Grads for Fast-Growing Wellness Field

CLARION, Pa. – Clarion University is shaping up its degree offerings with its new Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Fitness.

The decision to offer this new degree is based on a shift in health care which places an emphasis on not only treating sick people but preventing illness and diseases in the first place.

“Health care is moving toward that preventative model,” said Dr. Thomas Freenock, medical director for rehabilitation at Clarion Hospital. Freenock also consults with Clarion University’s Sports Medicine Center for Concussions. “So employers, even corporate employers, are going to be looking for people that can do a wellness and nutrition type program because they’re trying to cut costs down for their employees.”

But that’s not the only reason why this program is a good idea. There is a large population of aging baby boomers and an obesity epidemic to consider, said Pam Gent, Ph.D., Clarion University associate vice president and professor of special education.

Doug Knepp, Clarion University assistant professor and director of intramurals, said this type of program was developed with the support and encouragement of Harry Tripp, former Clarion University vice president of advancement and student affairs. At about the same time, the university considered the results of an environmental scan which identified the need for a program in health promotions and nutrition and fitness. Knepp said the program is three-and-a-half years in the making.

The program is coming at the right time as job prospects are growing for graduates with this type of degree.
Graduates will be qualified for jobs such as a healthy lifestyle coach, fitness and wellness coordinator, personal trainer, nutrition and wellness consultant, weight loss consultant, and careers in corporate and community-based wellness programs such as YMCA Silver Sneakers and Highmark Healthy U.

“Fitness and wellness coordinators are high priority occupations in Pennsylvania and in the United States,” Gent said.
Research from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that for fitness and wellness coordinators, there will be 12,200 job openings through 2022. The median hourly wage is $37.20 and $77,380 annually.

“There will be a lot of opportunities for these folks,” Gent said.

Freenock said he hasn’t seen anything like this program in western Pennsylvania.

“This is the first bachelor’s degree in the Pennsylvania State System that combines nutrition and fitness together in the same program. We also see this program adding to our commitment to offer more areas of study in the health sciences,” said Clarion provost Ronald Nowaczyk.

Knepp agreed that nobody else is offering this type of program. The program’s core classes include a variety of nutrition and fitness courses, social and behavioral science courses, as well as courses that deal with exercise and overall wellness.

Knepp said what makes the program unique is its combination of nutrition and fitness. “You really can’t have one without the other.”

Clarion University assistant professor Carol Brennan-Caplan helped design the curriculum for this program over the course of a year, in part, by researching other programs. She said other schools in the State System either offered nutrition or fitness degrees, but not both in one program.

Brennan-Caplan said the program is unique in that it offers an even split of nutrition and fitness core courses and then allows the student to cater their courses to the direction they want to go in their future.

“It really sets them up for some good career opportunities,” Brennan-Caplan said.

Students have already shown an interest in this degree program with estimates that there will be 25 students per year in this major for the first two years of its existence.

Knepp said students have already been asking him about this program.
“I think the program’s going to take off,” Knepp said.

In addition to being a standalone program, Brennan-Caplan said the program “complements a lot of other programs on campus” such as athletic training, biology and nursing.

“It works nicely with some of the other majors,” Brennan-Caplan said.

The program received approval by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Board of Governors. This new degree will begin this fall.

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