SFA juniors Garrett Plumlee of Longview, Valentina Stinchfield of Tyler and Breanna Lemons of Hawkins practice meditation at a fitness conference before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stephen F. Austin State University juniors Garrett Plumlee of Longview, Valentina Stinchfield of Tyler and Breanna Lemons of Hawkins practice meditation at a fitness conference before the COVID-19 pandemic. They are enrolled in the inaugural year of a new academic pathway that helps students in Tyler Junior College’s wellness and exercise program complete a four-year Bachelor of Science in kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science at SFA. Photo courtesy of Anne Provencher

NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Students enrolled in Tyler Junior College’s wellness and exercise program now have a way to complete a four-year Bachelor of Science in kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches.

The new pathway helps TJC students transfer their credits based on the Workforce Education Course Manual to SFA, which recently switched to the Texas Common Course Numbering System.

“This allows more classes to be transferred into SFA, so that reduces the students’ time to graduation and it reduces their cost because we’ve already agreed that those certain courses are going to transfer in,” said Dr. Jay Thornton, chair of SFA’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Science. “Some of those transfer in as junior- and senior-level courses.”

Anne Provencher, chair of TJC’s Department of Wellness and Exercise Science, said there’s another benefit to the pathway.

“It provides an easy, step-by-step plan with classes sequenced to ensure success at the next level,” she said. “Some students may have to work on the side or may be the first in their family to attend college or may face other issues. They may need a more gradual entry to the university level.”

The TJC program incorporates a lot of hands-on training to help students more easily transition to university-level labs and understand their future job opportunities, Provencher added.

“Students must complete a practicum at TJC, which gives them an opportunity to work with community businesses as interns, get a feel for the industry and network with those who will be hiring when they graduate,” she said. “We want to prepare them for the university level and show them what’s available to them in the industry once they earn their degrees and possibly while they earn their bachelor-level degrees.”

After completing two years of coursework to earn their Associate of Applied Science in wellness and exercise at TJC, students in the pathway transfer to SFA to complete their Bachelor of Science in kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science.

“Our program at TJC aligns with the Workforce Education Course Manual, so we’re coming from the workforce administration side instead of the academic side,” Provencher said. “So, for SFA to be gracious and add our courses to its second or third level is truly unique and greatly appreciated.”

Approved a year ago, the pathway is rolling out this fall despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As long as nothing changes, our groups are small enough that we can socially distance and complete the lab portions,” Provencher said. “And we have a hybrid approach for moving online with coursework and meeting in even smaller groups for testing if the pandemic worsens in East Texas.”

The students enrolled in the inaugural year of the program are juniors Breanna Lemons of Hawkins, Garrett Plumlee of Longview and Valentina Stinchfield of Tyler.
Lemons said the streamlined TJC-SFA pathway will keep her on track with courses she really wants to take while preparing her for a wide range of career opportunities.
“I appreciate the focused academic approach,” she said. “I don’t have to take a lot of extra, generalized courses.”

Plumlee developed an affinity for exercise science while playing sports growing up and coaching for Bishop Thomas K. Gorman Catholic School in Tyler for three years. He also was drawn to the program because of the many career opportunities it presents.
“There are several routes I can see myself going after graduation, whether I'm personally training, coaching at a high school or going the graduate assistant strength and conditioning coach path,” he said. “I can see really enjoying myself in any of those.”
Plumlee believes this pathway will open doors for students in the region.

“The TJC-SFA partnership will give students in Deep East Texas options and accessibility to a four-year degree,” he said.

Stinchfield was anxious at first about the transition from a junior college campus to a university with bigger classes, but after talking with her advisors, she’s ready for fall.

“I’m looking forward to the different ways of learning and styles of teaching,” she said.

Stinchfield played soccer from age 4 through her graduation from Whitehouse High School. She then played competitive soccer before earning her Associate of Arts in teaching at TJC.

Now she wants to focus on exercise science so she can be an effective trainer and coach.

“I want to work with people and teach them how to live healthy lives,” Stinchfield said. “I really want to start training kids when they’re young so they can develop safe, lifelong exercise habits.”
Students obtaining this degree move on to careers in exercise physiology, fitness, medicine and rehabilitation, research, and other allied health areas. The upper-level courses in SFA’s exercise science concentration help students specialize in their areas of interest, such as personal training, sports performance, athletic training and clinical exercise physiology.

This kinesiology degree also prepares students for graduate health professional degree programs to become traditional and osteopathic medical doctors, physical and occupational therapists and physician assistants.

“The Bachelor of Science in kinesiology is one of the top undergraduate degrees nationwide that physical and occupational therapists earn to obtain careers in that field,” Thornton said.

In addition to increasing enrollment at TJC and SFA, Provencher hopes the pathway will train more health and fitness professionals who can teach others safe wellness strategies based on proven information.

“These students will have true science behind them,” Provencher said. “They will know what they’re doing based on real health and safety information and not on the beauty of the market.”

For more information on this program, contact Thornton at jthornton@sfasu.edu or Provencher at apro@tjc.edu.