By Amy Biemiller
For Maria Elena Hallion, Ph.D., associate professor of Exercise Science and Health Promotion at Cabrini, embracing physical fitness as a way of life and a career was a decision she clearly remembers making—when she was in high school.
“I told people then that I knew I wanted to do something with exercise, but didn’t want to be a physical-education teacher,” she says. “I had no idea that at that time, the realm of exercise science and health promotion was emerging.”
As a student at West Chester University, she majored in exercise science, continued at East Stroudsburg University and earned a master’s degree in exercise physiology/ cardiac rehabilitation, and then received a doctorate in health science from Temple University.
She joined Cabrini’s Sport’s Science faculty in 1998, the year that major’s first undergraduates earned their degrees.
“At that time, the general public had already begun to understand that exercise and physical activity are preventative disciplines for maintaining good health,” she says.
The public’s general interest in physical fitness precipitated a change on campus with the major. In 2000, it was changed to Exercise Science and Health Promotion, a revision that expanded its curriculum.
“We enhanced the program because we saw how the field itself was changing,” she says. “We added two concentrations—Sports Science and Health Wellness Management—to prepare students to meet the needs of the emerging fitness industry.”
Today, public awareness about health issues and a desire by more people to assume more responsibility for their health has meant an increase in the demand for health and wellness professionals in commercial, corporate, community and clinical environments. Cabrini graduates are meeting that demand.
“Our students are preparing for careers in sports conditioning and wellness, as instructors in fitness centers, as wellness managers for in-house corporate programs, and for further graduate study in physical therapy and rehabilitation,” says Hallion, who is certified as an exercise specialist by the American College of Sports Medicine.
Since 2006, enrollment in the Exercise Science and Health Promotion major has grown 20 percent, and as of 2010 there were 78 undergraduates enrolled in the program.
It encompasses a demanding course of study, which includes anatomy and physiology, psychology, nutrition, management, and marketing.
“Being part of this transition of the field and seeing it blossom here at Cabrini has been one of my greatest pleasures,” says Hallion, who has seen hundreds of her students graduate and take on careers.
“Between the academic and hands-on learning, our students are well prepared for careers,” she says. Key to that professional success is the school’s internship program, which is a special point of pride for Hallion.
“All of our students do 370 hours of internship and have their choice of 80 internship sites in the Delaware Valley,” she explains.
Hallion serves as internship coordinator for the major, which requires extra time on her part, but which gives her great satisfaction. “I get to witness the students put their learning to work and then see how their confidence blooms. Their accomplishments and success make me so proud and I feel so lucky to be able to see this all happen,” she says.
Internships completed, Hallion sets about matching soon-to-be graduates and alumni with jobs. “I spend three years with my students, and then see them through their internships.
It gives me an opportunity to really get to know them and create that relationship,” she says. “Then, once they become alumni, they often stay in touch with me.”
That relationship building goes both ways for Hallion, who is deeply connected to the corporate community and often the first to know about job openings. “If my alumni stay in touch with me and help me understand their plans and aspirations, I let them know about jobs that make a good fit,” she says.
Being an advocate for her students and alumni comes naturally to Hallion. “I want to help them all find fulfilling careers, because I’ve always had that,” she says.
This fall, Hallion, who is also an accomplished speaker and author of a quarterly health column for The Record Today, will take a sabbatical from teaching. She will be the first academician to embark on a four-month learning rotation in the DuPont Children’s Hospital adolescent obesity program.
“I’m excited to gain this new knowledge about methods to help teens affected by obesity, and to bring this learning back to our campus,” she says.
“I tell all my prospective students that this is a service industry—our job is to give people our time and energy in order to motivate them, provide them with correct information and help them improve their quality of life,” she says. “With this major, our students know they will go out into the world with the power to influence other’s lives for the better. What could be better than that?”