Design of GCC’s Downtown Campus Fosters Fitness

Monday, June 24, 2013

Three thousand, five hundred and sixty five pushups, 181.8 miles, and 5,496 crunches:  These are just a few of the numbers that Gateway Community College’s (GCC) faculty and staff accumulated over just the first couple weeks of the Shape-Up Challenge this Spring. By the end, those miles, pushups, crunches, squats and grew exponentially in number, says Todd Degree, program director of GCC’s Exercise Science and Wellness Program.

Thirty-six faculty and staff took part in the student-run faculty and staff fitness challenge overseen by Degree. The winner:  Samantha Kusiak, an LD specialist in Student Disability Services.

Kusiak won the weekly challenge twice and the overall challenge. Raymond Zeek, director of Financial Aid, placed second and Michael Buccilli, director of Student Success, placed third.

Michelle Breaker, a GCC math instructor and facilitator of GCC’s Statway program, won the weekly challenge three times. Kusiak and Kathleen Anderson, a GCC counselor, each won it twice. Also winning one weekly competition was Rachel Schettenhelm, a Gateway Community College mathematics professor.

“I thought the challenge would be a fun way to learn new ways to stay active,” said Kusiak. “What better way to do that than with future professionals of the field?  My best single week was 12.58 miles, 266 pushup repetitions, 900 crunch repetitions, and 820 bicycles (our mystery activity that week). Over the course of eight weeks, I completed roughly 101 miles, 1,530 pushup repetitions, and 3,300 crunch repetitions. “

Breaker while the challenge pushed them on individually, she and her office mates and friends were also rooting each other on, she said. “It was a great way to stay in shape,” said Breaker, who did more than 1,055 reps throughout the challenge. “There were four of us from our department participating which made it really fun! Before the challenge, I did cardio every day, but I've added in pushups, sit-ups, walking, stretching and the 'mystery activity' to my daily routine.”

Each week Degree and eight student coaches devised a mystery challenge for the participants. The student coaches were Eric Chomka, Chris Consiglio, Amanda Cullen, Don DesPierre, Brandon Gargiulo, Alexis Lane, Nick Souza, Rochelle Woodson.

“For faculty and staff, I hope it alerts them to their current health habits.  I hope they can learn how to incorporate fitness into their everyday lives, not just for the length of the contest, but for years to come,” Degree said. “As for my students, they learn first-hand how to construct and administer a wellness program as well as gaining valuable experience in working with people.”

The student coaches created videos on each challenge, such as how to do a proper squat. They also offered a series of lunch and learn seminars on nutrition and many other topics. Kusiak loved them. “It is obvious how passionate the students are about a person’s fitness and wellbeing,” she said. “I also liked using to track my food intake- very useful, and very informational.  My biggest challenge was keeping up with the physical activity goals- sometimes my schedule was so hectic it was hard for me to want to make time for exercise.”

Each participant started with a weigh-in, a waist and hip measurement and a body fat test. Each also received a packet of fitness, nutrition and other health-related tips.  Those taking part were encouraged to walk or run each day for about 30 minutes, get involved in another kind of outdoor fitness-related activity like gardening and to do a series of pushups, crunches and each week’s mystery activity. Fitness tips include avoiding unhealthy snacks, surgary drinks and alcohol.

Degree and the coaches encouraged the GCC faculty and staff to bake chicken or fish rather than fry it, substitute 100 percent whole grain products for white flour and pay attention to serving sizes. "Mondays became my favorite day of the week since that's the day I saw all the hard work people were putting into the challenge,” Degree said. “It's not necessarily the numbers I liked to see, but rather the comments that came with them - how hard they worked, how they were pushing to do more.  That is the real point of the Shape-Up Challenge."

This year GCC’s Exercise Science and Wellness Program was awarded certification through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Education Recognition Program (ERP). The program prepares students for employment in the health and fitness industry and provides a basis for professional advancement.  Students blend classroom knowledge with hands-on experience to build an all-encompassing approach to health and wellness. The fitness challenge is one such experience.

The challenge is just one way the GCC faculty, staff and student body are getting into shape, thanks to the design of a very health-friendly campus, two blocks in length, with natural light streaming in and hundreds of stairs available to climb.

Faculty members Richard Rees, professor and chairperson of business, and Anne Williams, associate professor of business, started a walking group. Alice Pandolfi, the administrative coordinator of the Allied Health Department, goes walking every day in all kinds of weather with Lisa Cheroniak, associate fiscal administrative officer and Elaine Lickteig, assistant professor of dietetic technology.

 The design was purposeful as GCC President Dr. Dorsey L. Kendrick has said she wanted to a campus design that encouraged connection, academic collaboration and social interaction. That is just what faculty, staff and students say the campus has in abundance, many places to gather to work, study and talk together.  A happy side effect that the building’s design has also been fostering fitness. 

“People take the stairs all the time. They walk all over,” Degree said.

“I feel the design of this building is perfect for a good brisk walk with some climbing in-between," added Carol G. McHugh, executive assistant to President Kendrick. "And what better way to get great cardio that targets the whole body while at work?”