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.