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Urbana High Athletes Explore Careers in Applied Health Sciences During AHS Day

May 21, 2018


UHS student Lauren Cross experiences a roller coaster in virtual reality at AHS day.

On Friday, May 4th, around 20 Urbana High School athletes, along with their coaches, visited Illinois’ College of Applied Health Sciences (AHS) for I-STEM’s first ever AHS Day. During their visit, students were introduced to folks from the four different AHS departments (Kinesiology & Community Health, Speech & Hearing Science; Recreation, Sport, & Tourism, and I-Health). There, the high school students not only learned some things they hadn’t known before about the various presenters’ research areas, but they were also introduced to some possible college majors they’ve most likely never considered before. Plus, they also got to meet some of the College’s students, including a few athletes, and find out what it’s like to be a student in AHS at Illinois.


Gretchen Adams escorts the UHS students from one session to the next.

AHS Assistant Dean Gretchen Adams explains why an event like AHS Day is beneficial for high schoolers: “It exposes them to the student experience at the University of Illinois and in the College of Applied Health Sciences." She indicates that students might not be aware of the many career opportunities available in AHS. "I consider the majors in our college to be “discovery majors,” she explains, "since they are not explicitly taught as subjects in high school. Students get to learn about our majors and career opportunities in these areas, including some of the innovative research happening in our health fields.”

Regarding the college’s goals for the day, Patty Hudek, the AHS Undergrad Recruiter, adds that in order to ensure that their majors aren't "discovery majors," their goal is to "plant the seed early on, so these young folks know what we do and what we're about...It may not even be on their radar,” she continues. “We want the majors in Applied Health Sciences to be on their radar before they get to college.”

So to introduce the UHS students to some of the directions they might consider when choosing their careers, a cadre of AHS administrators, professors, and students exposed the UHS group to a myriad of possibilities, both careerwise and as college students in AHS.


Speech and Hearing Assistant Professors Fatima Husain and Pasquale Bottalico do a tag team presentation about their research in the field.

For instance, a dynamic duo from AHS’s Department of Speech and Hearing Science gave an educational yet entertaining presentation about the research they do. Assistant Professor Fatima Husain, shared about auditory, speech, and language processing in the brain using neuroimaging and computational modeling techniques. She also shared about a disorder she is currently studying—tinnitus (ringing in the ear), which is typically associated with hearing loss.

A UHS student practices removing gloves in the proper way to prevent contamination.

Assistant Professor Pasquale Bottalico also shared with the students some aspects of his research in acoustics, particularly room and musical acoustics, including the uncertainty of measurements and statistical analysis of data, along with speech intelligibility. Having discovered that he had studied opera (along with engineering) when he himself was an undergrad, the high schoolers requested that he sing for them, which he agreed to do. However, when Bottalico finally made good on his promise and sang a bit, the session was over and, sadly, most had left the room by that point.

The high school students enjoyed the session immensely, and reported that they’d appreciated learning more about speech and hearing: “Everything’s been fun because I got to learn more about my ear wax and everything,” acknowledges Lauren Cross. “It's more in depth.”

UHS sophomore Bryson also appreciated the first session about the ears and hearing: “I liked that because I learned a lot of stuff I didn't know,” he admits.


An Illini Service Dog member and Berry the poodle.

In the session on Community Health and Health Sciences, the UHS students experienced a variety of activities. They met the Service Dogs Club members, as well as some of the service dogs in training. A laborador, Alma, along with Berry the poodle, demonstrated some of things they’ve been learning in preparation for careers as service dogs themselves. The club members obtain the dogs as puppies, take turns taking care of them and training them. They even name them—hence the dogs have names only an Illinois student can truly appreciate: (Alma, short for Alma Mater, Berry, a derivative of Ikenberry, and Maisie, named after the crop [corn, or maize] grown in Illinois’ historical test plots.

During the Community Health sessions, students also got to participate in some related hands-on activities: how to remove contaminated gloves without contaminating oneself; how to administer an Epi Pen, and how to bandage an injury; for instance, Sergio McClain, Jr. volunteered to have a “sprained ankle” bandaged.

UHS students learn the proper technique to bandage a sprained ankle.

The session in Kinesiology taught by Professor Steven Petruzzello, grad student Allyson Box, and undergrad Nicki Levar, exposed the students to some of his research in exercise science and the psychology of exercise and sport. The student athletes’ eyes particularly lit up when Petruzzello touched on the psychology behind a free-throw routine and its positive benefits, such as helping athletes to relax and focus.


UHS students listen as Associate Professor Steven Petruzzello speaks about his work in Kinesology.

Petruzzello shares the benefit of bringing high schoolers into campus labs. “I think it’s useful for high school students to see what research is and the different forms it can take. I’m not completely certain that they have a good idea of what research really is, so I think seeing that it can take forms that may not fit with their framework is helpful to give them an idea that they might want to do something like that either in college or beyond."

Kinesiology Associate Professor Steven Petruzzello shares with the high schoolers.Kinesiology Professor Steven Petruzzello shares about his research during AHS Day.

He also hopes he and his team corrected some misconceptions about who scientists are and what they do.

"I’d also like to think that we showed them that “scientists” or “researchers” are just regular people and not stuffy and boring,” he explains, then puts a plug in for research: "I hope they at least consider the thought they can get involved in research as an undergrad when they go to college, and that it’s not just playing with test tubes!"


Allyson Box, a graduate student in kinesiology speaks to UHS students at AHS day.

Levar, who just graduated with her B.S. in Kinesiology, helped to demonstrate the psychological and physiological effects of exercise on brain activity, using an EEG and a stationary bike. During the interactive presentation, as she pedaled the bike, or stopped pedaling and closed her eyes, students could see the differences between the different states of exercise or relaxation via live data on a projector. Students were also encouraged to ask questions throughout the presentation.


Nicki Levar (left) helps Professor Steven Petruzzello demonstrate how to prepare an ECG cap prior to testing the effects of excercise on brain activity.

“I tried to share a little about my experience in the lab,” Levar reports, “so they would be aware of the awesome opportunities within reach for undergraduate students. I think they left the lab excited about what they learned. It was fun to interact with them and increase their exposure to new concepts and practices!”


An AHS student who was a member of the student panel shares with the high school students about his experience at Illinois.

One activity that particularly engaged the high schoolers was the student panel. “For these kinds of recruitment events,” Hudek explains, “we like to have students that have experienced our majors in applied health sciences speak to what they have done in their major, and what it's like to come in as a freshman, and how you grow as a person, and how you develop and learn.” She adds that giving the UHS visitors the opportunity to hear about AHS students’ experiences, “It really opens up—broadens the knowledge of the prospective students that are coming.”

Lauren Cross is a senior at Urbana High School who will be attending Barton College in Winston, North Carolina this fall to play basketball. She shares about the impact of AHS Day.

“Everything was good. It was just, really, really, really good, very informational, so that's what made it good. We actually got to interact and had to do stuff that we had to be active.”

She also believes the event will impact her career-related choices next year in school. “It broadens my vision of what I can do with physical therapy or exercise science, because I didn't know I can be an EMT, and I didn't know all that stuff, and now I feel like I know all that.”

Cross, who is a senior and will be heading to college next year, believes much of what she experienced will be applicable to her college experience. For example, she found the student panel to be quite helpful. She learned “what to expect freshman year…how to manage time.”


Urbana High School senior, Lauren Cross, waits to ask a question during the Kinesiology session.

Regarding the student panel, she also felt being able to interact with college students rather than adults, whose college experiences were a long time ago, was helpful. “So I think it was good to relate to them. I'm happy they weren't adults because they couldn't tell me what their freshman year was like now, but now these are people that were actually in college.”

Adds Cross, “And with me going to college, I learned more about what life would be like and what classes to take and what I'm experiencing because I'm going to be studying exercise science…This really, really helped me.”

The students definitely enjoyed the session by folks in Recreation, Sport, & Tourism (RST). For example, they played volleyball with a huge, overinflated, hot pink ball. They got to shoot some hoops (which obviously made them feel quite at home, since they’re all basketball players).


Don Hardin (right) explains the rules of the Mouse Trap Obstacle Course.

One activity was a team-building exercise led by Don Hardin: the Mouse Trap Obstacle Course, which was littered with “mines” which would “explode” if one stepped on them, along with real mouse traps which were actually set. Students were then divided into two teams (girls against the boys) at each end of the course. Then one person from each team was blindfolded and traversed the obstacle course based on the shouted instructions of her/his teammates.


Two UHS students work their way through the Mouse Trap Obstacle Course.

Regarding the last session at the ARC, UHS sophomore Bryson reports that he enjoyed all the different activities.

“I thought it was fun,” he says. “We got to do something we actually liked to play, like basketball, and then do the mouse trap sport, which he says was fun: “I mean, it was showing us teamwork and stuff. Yeah, they all taught us something.”

Adams indicates that one of her favorite parts of the day was "watching the interactions between the faculty and UHS students. The faculty were very personable and really wanted to engage them," then adds, "I am appreciative of their time and help!"

As for the students, she enjoyed "listening to all of their questions and observing their curiosity," adding that some students were engaged with one area, while others enjoyed other sessions.

Might some of the students end up in AHS at Illinois? Adams hopes so. In fact, that was her long-term goal for the day: that one of the activities "would engage them and help them start thinking of that field as a career possibility in the future, ideally pursing one of our majors in the College of AHS at the University of Illinois."


Story and photographs by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.

More: ISTEM Initiatives, Urbana High School, 2018


A UHS student experiences a roller coaster through virtual reality at AHS day.