In this feature, read about student research learning opportunities, applied sport science technology and a team battling chronic disease through physical activity. Kelsey Kinnamon and Neel Rao worked with Dr. Peter Giacobbi on a lifestyle app enhancing users’ experience of pregnancy. The Human Performance Innovation center on campus provides direct experience for students while providing athlete monitoring for WVU sports teams. A partnership with WVU Extension Service, WVU School of Public Health, WV Prevention Research Center and CPASS, funded by a CDC grant, is creating chances for rural communities through health food, physical activity and education.
Two CPASS sport and exercise psychology students have strengthened their career options through research and hands-on learning. Kelsey Kinnamon and Neel Rao, undergraduates, began working with Peter Giacobbi, associate professor, on PregPal — a lifestyle app for pregnant women. The system uses guided imagery to influence sleep, eating, exercise habits and body image, while connecting the soon-to-be moms with their baby and the experience of pregnancy.
Kinnamon’s responsibilities have covered interviewing participants, analyzing interviews, conducting data collection and reviewing outcomes. She has presented results at a conference at the University of Kentucky. “This has been a great learning experience,” Kinnamon says. “Dr. [Giacobbi] has let students be a part of every aspect to get exposure to different parts of research, such as collection, writing and presenting. It’s a huge benefit to say I have experience with these different facets of research,” she added.
Kinnamon is now attending graduate school at Georgia Southern University.
The numbers person in the equation was Neel Rao, who graduates this December. Rao, originally from California, has been involved in research since spring 2018. After shadowing in data collection and receiving IRB approval in March, he earned training on ethical procedures in research studies and became authorized to handle sensitive data and work with subjects.
Rao plans to pursue more research opportunities and wants to go to graduate school, earn an assistantship and eventually enter public health, perhaps with the CDC. “My SEP degree will allow me to consider many different disciplines, such as research, policy and biostatistics. I knew I wanted to work with Dr. [Giacobbi] because of his ties with public health,” he said.
A Smart Collaboration
Sport science is a rapidly growing field in the U.S. Most U.S. sport teams and NCAA power five athletic programs have a professional charged with providing sport science services, including athlete monitoring programs and specific assessments.
That’s why CPASS created courses focused on sport science and sport technology as well as a sport science practicum. The intent is to help students stay on the cutting edge in their fields and attain professional opportunities. This is unique, as sport scientists working in the U.S. often must be trained abroad.
A collaboration between CPASS faculty and the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI) is also offering students exposure to high level collegiate sport and immersion in the environment, instruments and processes of applied sport science in a team setting.
Much of the collaboration has involved coordinated efforts between Josh Hagen, director of the Human Performance Innovation Center at RNI, and Guy Hornsby, coaching and performance science assistant professor and a member of RNI’s performance team.
This training provides a positive experience for CPASS students and aids Hagen in providing athlete monitoring efforts for the teams he is working with.
Be Wild, Be Wonderful, Be Healthy
In West Virginia, obesity and cardiovascular disease are a true epidemic. And in rural communities in Clay and McDowell counties, the problem is only getting worse. “As a primary risk factor for a number of chronic degenerative diseases, physical inactivity and poor nutrition represent a serious public health concern in West Virginia,” said Sean Bulger, a professor from the WVU College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences.
But, thanks to CPASS, the WVU Extension Service, the WVU School of Public Health and the West Virginia Prevention Research Center, these vulnerable populations will soon be the focus of a rural health project aimed at improving lifestyles long-term. Using a five-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an interdisciplinary team from WVU will work to reduce obesity and other chronic diseases within these communities — from the inside out.
The project, known as Be Wild, Be Wonderful, Be Healthy, will teach and encourage each person to take ownership of their own health and their community’s health. Involving the communities and building partnerships among community leaders is a vital part of the project as the team focuses on improving access to healthy food and creating more opportunities for residents to be physically active.
“Right now, there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to eating healthy and being active in rural West Virginia. But I believe education and access to these things can change our residents’ attitudes,” says Michael Shamblin, WVU Extension Service agent and associate professor in Clay County. “We’re looking to develop a community atmosphere that inspires healthier lifestyles.”
Working from the ground up and inside out, community coalitions will help guide WVU’s interdisciplinary team and establish each community’s unique needs. Emily Murphy, WVU Extension Service childhood obesity prevention specialist and associate professor, says that involving the community from the beginning is the only sustainable way to make a difference.
Community members and organizations can also apply for a series of mini-grants available each year for the duration of the project by participating in sustainability training. Both are designed to allow the community to drive the success of the project. “It takes awhile to build these important relationships,” Murphy says. “But working together, we will develop a feasible, customized plan of action for each community.”