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Urbana High Athletes Discover Applied Health Sciences During I-STEM’s AHS Day

May 21, 2018


A UHS student 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 (Speech & Hearing Science; Community Health/Health Sciences; Kinesiology; and Recreation, Sport, & Tourism). 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.

Patty Hudek, the AHS Undergrad Recruiter explains the college’s goals for AHS Day:

“Part of what we're trying to do is expose these high school students to our majors in Applied Health Sciences, and we're really trying to hopefully make it so that our majors aren't discovery majors, and that we can plant the seed early on so these young folks know what we do and what we're about.”

What's a discovery major? “It’s a major students may not know necessarily know about in high school. “It may not even be on their radar,” she admits. “We want the majors in Applied Health Sciences to be on their radar before they get to college.”


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

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

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 in speech and hearing. 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.”


Above: An Illini Service Dog member and Berry the poodle.
Below: UHS students learning the proper technique to bandage a sprained ankle.

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 they’re training. A laborador, Alma, along with Berry the poodle, who demonstrated some of the 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 might come up with: (Alma, short for Alma Mater, Berry, a derivative of Ikenberry, and Maisie, named after the crop [corn, or maise] grown in Illinois’ famous 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.

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


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 ECG 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.

“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!”

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


Associate Professor Steven Petruzzello his undergrad Nicki Levar demonstrate effects of excercise on brain activity.

“Everything was good. It was just, really, really, really good, like 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 stuff.”

According to Cross, who is a senior and will be heading to college next year, she 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.”

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.”


A group of UHS students work their way through the Mouse Trap Obstacle Course.

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). 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.

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.”


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

More: Urbana High School, 2018


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