High school students explore the science of fitness

Exploring the Science of Fitness

After a seven-year hiatus, Summer Ventures returned to campus this summer. A state-funded program for North Carolina students who aspire to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the camp paired high school juniors and seniors with university faculty for four weeks.

For these students, Summer Ventures wasn’t the average camp experience. Coordinated through CESTEM at the Watson College of Education, participants lived on campus and conducted research around topics of their interest ranging from coastal oceanography to physics. Kit Huelskamp, an assistant professor in the School of Health and Applied Human Sciences, taught Fit for Research.

“We looked at things that a field researcher might reasonably have to do to collect data,” she explained.

Huelskamp was assigned a group of 12 girls. “I really lucked out,” she said. “I got a group of young ladies who get along famously together. They were just as excited to go on all of these adventures as I was. They never complained, even when it was hot. They ate it up!”

To prepare, Huelskamp created an outline of the skills she wanted them to obtain from the course. “First and foremost, to learn more about nutrition and fitness, which is my wheel house,” she says. “I also teamed up with Jessica Croson, a science teacher from Pender County. She brought a lot more science to the table, like biology and environmental sciences. It is a good partnership, she helped plan the labs for the girls.”

Ultimately, Huelskamp let her students guide the curriculum. “I started them out with some basic nutrition. But in some of our discussions, we started to make queries into fad diets and eating disorders. Some of these issues are very relevant for teenage girls. They are at extremely high risk, especially with exposure to social media, to developing an eating disorder or getting on a fad diet that will put their health at risk.”

Huelskamp collaborated with female scientists to introduce her students to new ideas and possible career paths. Carolina Priester, a lecturer in biology and marine biology, helped the girls conduct urinalyses to look at the effects of dehydration on the body. They also burned food samples to look at food energy density. “We actually burned some food and see how many calories it actually had,” Huelskamp said.

Her students conducted a VO2 Max test with Tamlyn Shields, an exercise science lecturer. “She explained that even if you are overweight, as long as you are physically active, it is possible to be healthier than a skinnier person who is very sedentary,” Huelskamp said. “That clicked for some of them. I had one student later that day say they are going to start exercising a lot more, because of what Tamlyn said.”

Huelskamp found Summer Ventures to be a good way for students to become familiar with different majors prior to starting college. “They don’t know what they want to do with their lives. This is a good way to taste test and get a good sample of everything. I think some of them are more interested in fitness than they were when they first got here.”

Huelskamp grew from her experience as well. “I developed just as much as these girls developed from Summer Ventures. They are incredibly bright and motivated.”

- August 2018