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Professor promotes healthy lifestyles from the Valley to China

Pamela Hodges Kulinna
September 28, 2011

For Arizona State University physical education professor Pamela Hodges Kulinna, opportunities to promote physical activity and healthy lifestyles can be found almost anywhere. And she seemingly is willing to reach out to people anywhere, from China to a Native American community in metropolitan Phoenix, to help people lead healthy lives.

In recognition of the excellence of her scholarship and leadership, Kulinna recently was elected as an Active Fellow by the National Academy of Kinesiology. She became one of only 165 Active Fellows nationwide, representing fields including physical education pedagogy, biomechanics, sport psychology, exercise physiology and motor behavior.

Kulinna is a professor in ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, which offers one of the few programs in Arizona that prepare future K-12 physical education teachers. Teachers College bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs specializing in physical education are offered on ASU’s Polytechnic campus.

In one of her numerous outreach projects, Kulinna along with colleagues Paul Darst, Connie Pangrazi, Hans van der Mars and their graduate students partnered with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community Schools (SRPMCS) in a four-year initiative to develop healthy and active schools. SRPMCS is one of the leaders in implementing schoolwide initiatives promoting healthy behaviors, including running/sport clubs, classroom physical activity breaks, integrating student healthy behavior knowledge across the curricula, an active wellness committee, before/lunch/after-school physical activities, and exclusively serving healthy food at the schools.

SRPMCS teachers reported, and pedometer-collected data showed, that students’ weekly physical activity minutes exceeded the national recommendations and that these physical activity patterns were typical of U.S. children. Students increased their healthy behavior knowledge related to the food and physical activity pyramids over the course of the project. Classroom teachers and students reported enjoying classroom based physical activity breaks and integrating healthy behavior knowledge across the curricula.

“Dr. Kulinna’s work has impacted the culture of these schools by partnering with school personnel to help students adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors and beliefs,” said Suzanne Painter, director of the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation in Teachers College. “Pam was ahead of the curve on this, recognizing that healthy habits are not simply taught through a health textbook, but that information must be accompanied with changes in the way children and adults think about these behaviors and engage with each other to change. This work exemplifies ASU’s New American University goal of social embeddedness – working to improve our local communities.”

Kulinna’s work also is touching local communities halfway around the world. She was one of a group of educators the Chinese Ministry of Education approached to write chapters for a series of textbooks focusing on kinesiology from a Western perspective. Authors were selected from universities across the U.S. as well as Ireland and Australia. Kulinna wrote the chapter “Beyond the Gym: Connecting with Classroom and Community” for the book “Learning for a Lifetime: Effective Secondary Physical Education Programs.” Her chapter addresses brain function and academic benefits of physical activity, physical fitness and physical education, as well as creating healthy and active school environments.

She and other chapter authors, who worked with Chinese scholars to translate their texts, will visit China from late October to early November. They will attend two conferences at universities in Beijing and Suzhous City that will focus on research methods and best practices in teacher education. Kulinna will make a presentation at each gathering and lead roundtable discussions.

This upcoming trip comes on the heels of a trip to Minneapolis and the annual meeting of the National Academy of Kinesiology, where Kulinna officially became an Active Fellow. She also was selected to deliver the New Fellow Response 2011, which will be published in the organization’s spring newsletter.

“I am humbled by this acknowledgement and to be part of the National Academy of Kinesiology’s long and distinguished history,” Kulinna said. “Being a Fellow in the Academy means many things to me, including an opportunity to grow and shape the discipline in academic and other settings. It also provides me with networking possibilities by way of national and international multi-disciplinary colleagues who embrace a shared vision of the importance of kinesiology to society.”

A prolific author, Kulinna has authored and co-authored academic journal articles focusing on a wide range of topics, including teachers’ efficacy in teaching healthy behavior content, literacy programs for homeless children, teachers’ attributions and strategies for student misbehavior, and models for curriculum and pedagogy in elementary school physical education.

“Pam is an excellent mentor for doctoral students, an extremely hard-working faculty member and a wonderful citizen of the college,” Painter said. “She is fully deserving of the national and international recognition that her work is receiving.”

Kulinna earned her Ph.D. in kinesiology and sport pedagogy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physical education and human movement studies at the University of Oregon. She came to ASU in 2003 after holding positions at institutions including Wayne State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.