Master of Science in Exercise & Sport Science: High Altitude Exercise Physiology

Profiles

Erin Smith

~Alumnus~

Erin Smith headshot
Erin Smith headshot

Erin Smith

“The leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease, and the most impactful way to combat heart disease is exercise. Having an education in exercise physiology allows me to make the biggest difference in people’s health and lives.”

Erin Smith, M.S. in High Altitude Exercise Physiology (HAEP) '17, came to Western after 12 years at a lucrative position with Trek Bikes. Now, she works as a researcher and lecturer in Western’s Exercise & Sport Science (ESS) department and leads the Gunnison Valley Health (GVH) Wellness, Elevated program.

“It was risky … but I wanted to teach,” Smith said about going back to school. “Enrolling in the HAEP program was what I had to do to get there.”

As a graduate student, Smith dove deep into the many research and teaching opportunities presented in the HAEP program, including lecturing in undergraduate classes and around the community.

“Erin exemplified the ideal student in her drive and sense of adventure,” said Christina Buchanan, Ph.D., Smith’s former professor and current colleague. “Not only did she work incredibly hard as a student but she was also very curious and willing to take on new challenges.”

Smith has researched, published and presented on a host of topics in the field of exercise, including a pilot study on a procedure known as ischemic preconditioning, which can reduce symptoms of altitude sickness if performed before ascending to high elevations.

Beyond any single topic, Smith finds tremendous fulfillment working in a field that is related to so many deaths and illnesses.

“The leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease, and the most impactful way to combat heart disease is exercise,” Smith said. “Having an education in exercise physiology allows me to make the biggest difference in people’s health and lives.”

Christina Buchanan, Ph.D.

~Faculty~

Christina Buchanan headshot
Christina Buchanan headshot

Christina Buchanan, Ph.D.

“We spend a lot of time in the classroom talking about research methods and planning, and we practice it all through actual execution.”

Christina Buchanan, Ph.D., sparked her interest in exercise science during her time as a collegiate runner. She competed for Mount Holyoke College as an undergraduate and had ambitions of being a running coach.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I liked coaching,” said Buchanan, director of the High Altitude Exercise Physiology graduate program.

In pursuit of a major aligned with her intent to coach someday, Buchanan chose to abandon her progress on an anthropology degree and pursue a bachelor’s in exercise science upon advice from an advisor. Just years a few years later, she earned her Ph.D. in Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University.

“I had a lot of running injuries at the time,” Buchanan said. “But I learned that I loved to teach from the various assistantships I had.”

After a brief stint teaching and being a running coach at a middle and high school in San Diego, Buchanan arrived in Gunnison in 2003. She began teaching summer courses at Western and soon after became a full-time lecturer in Exercise & Sport Science. Ten years after her arrival at Western, an opportunity arose to propose a graduate program in High Altitude Exercise Physiology (HAEP).

“I was assigned to create the proposal and becoming the director of the HAEP program was the reward,” Buchanan said.

Since the program’s approval, Buchanan and her colleague Lance Dalleck, Ph.D., have tirelessly combined their love for research, teaching and the outdoors.  

“We are doing more research in the HAEP program than I have done in a long time,” she said. “We spend a lot of time in the classroom talking about research methods and planning, and we practice it all through actual execution.”

Buchanan frequently uses athletes from Western’s Mountain Sports and NCAA athletic programs as research subjects and loves conducting field research with her students at live events such as the Moab Trail Marathon.

“I love teaching and I love being in the outdoors,” she said. “My job is to put these together.”

Buchanan has seen HAEP evolve from a concept on paper to an environment where students can make a difference. Despite all her hard work and dedication to make this program a reality, she credits the courage of HAEP’s first cohort of students for making the program what it is today.

“They were really a group of pioneers,” she said. 

Bryant Byrd

~Student~

Bryant Byrd headshot
Bryant Byrd headshot

Bryant Byrd

“I’ve learned the importance of understanding my clients’ limitations and developing rapport.”

Exercise is a common thread for Bryant Byrd. As an Academic All-American in cross country and two-time member of the Western squad that qualified for nationals, Byrd found a balance between preparing himself for competition, generously volunteering his time to help elders with physical limitations and conducting research.   

Through his volunteer work at Gunnison Valley Health’s Senior Care Center and his help with Western’s Wellness Elevated program, Byrd strives to make the people of the Gunnison Valley healthier.

“I’ve learned the importance of understanding my clients’ limitations and developing rapport,” said Byrd, who graduated from Western in 2017 with a B.S. in Exercise & Sport Science. “While I might understand what exercises work best for me as an athlete, I try to approach everything with an open mind.”

In addition to work with clients, Byrd also took advantage of many research opportunities as an undergraduate. He co-authored several publications with faculty and graduate students and has authorship of an article titled, “The Effects of Ischemic Preconditioning on Endurance Athletes.”

“My involvement in research is going to help me tremendously going into the High Altitude Exercise Physiology (HAEP) program,” he said.

Byrd’s involvement as an undergraduate is a testament to his passion and dedication, although he attributes his success to the guidance from his professors and friends. He hopes to use his HAEP master’s degree to become a physical therapist.

“Being a physical therapist would allow me to help people stay free of injury and continuing what they love to do,” Byrd said. 

Faculty & Staff

Faculty

Christina Buchanan headshot
High Altitude Exercise Physiology Director
B.A., Mt. Holyoke College, M.S., Colorado State University, Ph.D., Colorado State University
Phone: 970.943.2027
Office Location: Wright Gym 224
Lance Dalleck headshot
Associate Professor of Exercise & Sport Science
B.A., Western Colorado University, M.S., Colorado State University, Ph.D., University of New Mexico
Phone: 970.943.7132
Office Location: Wright Gym 227
Dr. Kathleen M. Kinkema headshot
Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs; Professor, Recreation, Exercise & Sport Science Department
B.A., Grand Valley State University, M.S., University of North Carolina-Greensboro, Ph.D., University of North Carolina-Greensboro
Phone: 970.943.7133
Office Location: Wright Gym 229

Courses

FOR REQUIRED COURSES AND DEGREE PLANS, VISIT THE OFFICIAL UNIVERSITY CATALOG. This is a sample of courses offered by Western Colorado University. To ensure the courses you need are offered during the current semester, please visit the university course search.

 ESS 600 - ADVANCED STATISTICS (3 credits)

Statistical tools for scientific research, including parametric and non-parametric methods for ANOVA and group comparisons, simple linear and multiple linear regression. Emphasis placed on the use of dedicated statistical software.

 ESS 601 - QUANTITATIVE RESEARCH METHODS (3 credits)

Research design and methodology in environmental exercise physiology.

 ESS 605 - EXER SPRT SCI TEST INSTRM LAB (3 credits)

Techniques of in-lab exercise testing and result interpretation in healthy and/or diseased populations.

 ESS 606 - EXC SPRT SCI TEST INST FIELD (3 credits)

Techniques of field-based exercise testing and result interpretation in healthy and/or diseased populations.

 ESS 640 - ENVIRONMENTL EXERCISE PHYSIO I (3 credits)

Principles of exercise physiology in extreme environmental conditions including extreme temperatures, hyper- and hypobarometric pressure, air pollution, sleep deprivation, and zero gravity. Healthy and diseased populations are studied.

 ESS 641 - ENVIRONMENTAL PHYSIOLOGY II (3 credits)

Advanced research and principles of exercise physiology in extreme environmental conditions including extreme temperatures, hyper- and hypobarometric pressure, air pollution, sleep deprivation, and zero gravity. Healthy and diseased populations are studied. Prerequisite: ESS 640.

 ESS 650 - THESIS PROPOSAL DEVELOPMENT (3 credits)

Current topics and issues in exercise and sport science and environmental exercise physiology. Seminar topics change each semester. Emphasis may be placed on thesis proposal development and submission of the proposal to Western’s Human Research Committee.

 ESS 675 - CLINICAL EXERCISE PROGRAM LAB (3 credits)

Role of exercise/physical activity in the prevention, pathophysiology and treatment of chronic diseases. Hands on clinical exercising programming experiences.

 ESS 685 - CARDIOPULMONARY PHYSIOLOGY (3 credits)

A foundation course that covers 1) the structure and function of the cardiopulmonary systems; 2) exercise-related physiological changes of the cardiopulmonary system and their applications to exercise training; and 3) pathophysiological changes secondary to cardiopulmonary dysfunction and their effects on function.

 ESS 695 - THESIS (6 credits)

Independent research project, supervised by academic advisor. Prerequisites: second year graduate standing, ESS 650.

The High Altitude Exercise Physiology Master of Science program is a two-year, residential program that takes advantage of the unique physical and academic environment of Colorado’s Gunnison Valley.

Apply Now to the HAEP Graduate Program
(Application Deadline July 1st)
 

Request information about HAEP

What Will You Learn? What Skills Will You Acquire?

ESS
This program prepares students for careers in performance, academia, research or clinical practice, as well as for further study in the discipline. The High Altitude Exercise Physiology program aims to examine how the human body functions physiologically, both acutely and chronically, in extreme environments. These include – but are not limited to – high altitude, heat, cold and low humidity. Students in this program will complete at least 36 total credits, including six thesis credits. The thesis will be a culminating research project, to be completed during the last semester of the two-year program.
Program Goals:
  • To enhance student understanding of human physiology – at rest and during exercise, in healthy and diseased populations – in extreme environments, including hyper- and hypobarometric conditions, heat, cold, pollution.
  • To prepare students for original research under supervision of the ESS-HAEP faculty.
  • To prepare students to share their research as presentations, publications or both.
  • To prepare students for careers in academia, research or clinical practice, as well as for further study in the discipline.

Student Outcomes

Research — HAEP Graduates will understand Exercise Science research methods and demonstrate the ability to recognize and employ various study designs. They will:

  • Be adept at retrieving and analyzing information relevant to Exercise Science.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the background and principle research in their specialization.
  • Demonstrate the ability to critically evaluate scientific literature and apply the scientific method to exercise sciences, by actively engaging in the research process with critical analysis and research.
  • Demonstrate the ability to situate their own research within the broader context of the Exercise Science field.

Communication and Writing — HAEP graduates will master oral and written skills to present and publish their research in peer-reviewed venues.

Application/Outreach — HAEP graduates will be able to translate research into practice, developing evidence-based exercise prescriptions for individuals with performance goals – particularly those at risk, including special populations – who seek to perform in extreme environments, such as altitude, cold and stressful heat.

Critical Thinking — HAEP Graduates will effectively use information obtained through traditional and non-traditional sources to solve problems related to academic or professional practice.

Technology — HAEP Graduates will use technology to complete tasks within the Exercise Science profession. This includes proficiency with exercise testing equipment and relevant computer skills.

Apply Now to the HAEP Graduate Program

A special "Thank You!" to the following generous sponsors of the Master of Science in High Altitude Exercise Physiology program at Western: 

   

Master of Science in High Altitude Exercise Physiology (HAEP) SPONSOR: GRIGGS ORTHOPEDICS Crested Butte
  
Master of Science in High Altitude Exercise Physiology (HAEP) SPONSOR: HEIGHTS PERFORMANCE REHAB, HEALTH

Gunnison Valley Health Rehab and Athletic Medicine Logo

 

Next Steps

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