Well-Fit Center for Youth Wellness and Fitness will take STEM approach to help children thrive

Tue, 05/21/2024


Alicia Marksberry

LAWRENCE — The Achievement & Assessment Institute (AAI) has announced the opening of Well-Fit | Center for Youth Wellness and Fitness. The center is based on the principle that youths should be provided knowledge and skills through STEM learning and in-person programming to improve physical wellness and fitness.

Led by Trent Herda, professor in the University of Kansas Department of Health, Sport & Exercise Sciences and director of the Neuromechanics Laboratory, Well-Fit builds upon Herda’s research interest in examining the effects of exercise and physical activity on skeletal muscle composition, motor skills and overall health.

“I want to give children the opportunity to gain insight and knowledge on healthy growth and development and a better understanding of the positive benefits of exercise, physical activity and proper nutrition. We're not really meeting those needs right now,” Herda said. “We’ve found that attacking this problem through STEM programming could be really effective.”

The center will use three different approaches to accomplish its goals: online educational content, in-person exercise programming and research.

The online branch of the center is represented through Sci-FIIT Academy, an online educational component to improve physical fitness and wellness. The content is delivered via interactive and engaging STEM learning. Courses are developed to be used by afterschool programs and KU’s Sports Skills and Physical Activity Camp. Herda hopes to eventually see this online programming accessible to children via school districts.

“This type of education doesn’t necessarily have to be delivered by a P.E. instructor. There's a lot of STEM learning that happens in the classroom and is self-paced. Physical fitness and wellness are at the intersection of science, technology, engineering and math,” Herda said.

The in-person programming is done through the Sports Skills & Physical Activity Camp at KU, which provides children the opportunity to develop their sports and physical fitness skills, as well as Jayhawk Performance, a youth strength and conditioning program at KU. Both programs are within the KU health, sport and exercise sciences department.

Research is conducted through both the online and in-person programs and through collaborations with the Center of Children’s Healthy Lifestyles and Nutrition (CHLN) and laboratories at KU Medical Center.

“Strong collaborations have developed with members of CHLN. We're working on pediatric neuromuscular projects now that five years ago I never even would have dreamed about,” Herda said.

Much of Well-Fit’s in-person programming will occur in the new Youth Exercise and Sport Center (YES Center), located in renovated space inside Robinson Center. The new athletic space features 25 yards of synthetic turf, 17 yards of rubber flooring, five squat racks, resistance training equipment, plus additional equipment for sprinting speed, agility and power development.

Joining Herda at Well-Fit is Quincy Johnson, Well-Fit associate director and program coordinator for Jayhawk Performance, and Ken Murfay, program coordinator for the Sports Skills and Physical Activity Camp. Both Johnson and Murfay are currently faculty members within the KU health, sport and exercise sciences department.

“Dr. Herda, Dr. Murfay and I are each passionate about the health, physical fitness and wellness of youth populations and are looking forward to sharing our expertise and serving Lawrence and the surrounding communities,” Johnson said.

Regarding the program he leads, Johnson said the vision for Jayhawk Performance is to provide safe, sound and affordable strength and conditioning programs for local youth athletes that are in alignment with the tenets of widely accepted long-term athlete development models.

For Neal Kingston, AAI director, offering Well-Fit a home within AAI aligns closely with the institute’s goal of supporting applied research and unique approaches as it relates to its mission of improving the lives of children and adults.

“Well-Fit’s mission to provide fitness and wellness knowledge through STEM learning is an innovative and exciting way to help improve the lives of children,” Kingston said. “I saw Trent’s presentation on the platform and thought AAI would be a great home for it and would benefit both AAI and Trent’s research.”

“This is definitely different from what my day-to-day research life has been up to this point, but I am all in,” Herda said. “I'm most excited about getting children enrolled and getting them learning about daily healthy habits to really improve their long-term health.”

Tue, 05/21/2024


Alicia Marksberry

Media Contacts

Alicia Marksberry

Achievement & Assessment Institute