School of Professional Studies

School of Professional Studies

History of the Health Promotion and Exercise Sciences Department

The Health Promotion and Exercise Sciences Department (HPX) came to be in the spring of 2003 when the University approved the merger of the Physical Education Department with the Health Sciences Department.

The Physical Education department had been offering activity classes to undergraduates for decades dating back to the 1930’s.  It had been part of the Athletics and Recreation Department until 1985, when it became its own Department in the School of Professional Studies.  While no Physical Education degree has ever been offered at Western Connecticut, the department took pride in offering a wide variety of skill courses, including basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, badminton, archery, fencing, square dance, volleyball, bowling, dance and many others to offer all students a worthwhile experience while fulfilling their general educational course requirements.  Beginning in 2000, then chair Professor Phyllis Cooper began working with Dr. Jeffrey Schlicht to change the activity model from just a skills based model curriculum to include lifetime skills.   New lifetime activities now include yoga, tai chi, core strength training, power-walking, aerobics and body sculpting.  

The Physical Education Department has always been located in Berkshire Hall, simply due to the proximity to the ‘Bill Williams’ Gymnasium (named after Professor and long time chair/basketball coach Bill Williams) and to the athletic fields/outdoor recreational space.  That outdoor space has since been eliminated with the new Science Building so most outdoor physical education activity classes take place on the Westside campus.  Past chairs of the Physical Education department have included Georgette Kinney, Phyllis Cooper, Ted Hines, Dr. Marie Dean and Dr. Alice Donelley.  The current chair of HPX is Professor Jody Rajcula and she has served as chair since 2003.

The Health Education Department was conceived by Dr. Alice Donelley, Professor of Physical Education, at the then Western Connecticut State College, in 1970, the first B.S. degree in Health Education is offered. In 1974, Ruth R. Shibuya was hired to develop the concept and implement the major. She served as Chair from September 1974 to May 1995.

The Department was originally housed in the Old Main Building on the second floor, southwest corner. There, it shared facilities and secretaries with the Education Department. With full support of the college’s administration, the Department developed quickly and, through the years, became recognized in the state as the best site for undergraduate training in Health Education. Subsequent to the Old Main location, the department moved to White Hall where it was housed, in the basement initially with the Social Work Department and then on the first floor, sharing the secretary with the Music Department.  After the merger with the Physical Education Department in 2003, it moved to Berkshire Hall where it has been housed since.

The Health Education Department officially became renamed as the Health Science Department in the Fall of 1990 in order to meet the State mandates for teacher certification, which precluded “Education” in the department’s title.

One major focus of Health Education in Schools has been the preparation of Teachers of Health. Certification by the Connecticut State Education Department prepares our students to teach Health – kindergarten through twelfth grade. From basic anatomy, physiology and chemistry, these students also learn specific health subjects plus teaching methods to competently assume entry-level jobs in the schools.

A second major, Community Health, prepares students to assume roles as health educators in health organizations in the community. Whatever the focus of our majors, they are encouraged to view health as dynamic, balanced, positive and rational. That is, as new ideas on wellness are conceptualized and as information is disseminated from both credible and “non-believable” sources, health is a dynamic quality and responsibility for action depends on each person. Therefore, health educators must be competent and current in many fields.

All our students are encouraged to seek CHES (Certified Health Education Specialists) Certification. In the year 2000, WCSU became a regional site for administering this exam. While there are accrediting bodies for graduate programs in Public Health, none currently exists for undergraduate programs. However, our graduates easily enter graduate programs without apparent deficiencies in their prior academic training.

With the inception and encouragement of the Health Science University/ Community Advisory Board in April1998, an Institute for Holistic Health Studies (IHHS) was explored and conceived. In May 2000, after approval from the School and University’s curriculum committees, Dr. Roach, WestConn’s President, approved the establishment of the Institute for Holistic Health, housed and is currently managed within the Health Promotion and Exercise Sciences Department. The Institute sponsored renowned speakers in current and often controversial but critical areas of health promotion. For example, “The Power of the Mind and Spirit to Heal,” “A Passion for the Possible,” “Chakras and Healing for Self and Others” and “Healing through Dreams” are issues in health promotion that encourage action on the part of individuals for their own wellness. In Spring 2003,. The HPX Department and its Institute for Holistic Health became affiliated with the Connecticut Holistic Health Association, co-hosting the annual CHHA Holistic Health Fair, as well as several renown speakers throughout the year.

From 1995 through 2002, Dr. Jeanette Tedesco Chaired, Co-Chaired and served as Associate Chair of the Health Science Department, and also served as Director of the Institute for Holistic Health and then retired in May 2003. In Spring of 2002, Ms. Virginia Verhoff assumed the Interim Chair’s position for Health Sciences until August 2003. In January 2003, Ms. Jody Rajcula and Virginia Verhoff served as co-chairs for the newly formed Health Promotion and Exercise Sciences Department. In September 2003, Ms. Jody Rajcula assumed the Interim Chair of the new Health Promotion and Exercise Sciences Department.

In January 2006, the CT Department of Higher Education approved of HPX offering a new BS degree program in Health Promotion Studies with options in Community Health and Wellness Management. The Wellness Management option is a result of the growing demand by business corporations to employ health educators to teach and improve the health of their employees in wellness programs.  The new option was so popular that the department was able to graduate its first Wellness Management class in the spring of 2008.  The offering of a third option in Holistic Health is anticipated in the near future.

Submitted by:
Dr. Ruth Shibuya, Faculty Emeritus and Founder of the Health Science Department
June 2002
Additions by Dean Lynne W. Clark, August 2003, 2004, 2006
Further additions by Professor Jody Rajcula, 2009