James Madison University

Alumni Highlight - Sarah Sheppard

BS Kinesiology: Exercise Science, Class of 2012

The Past: My JMU experience

PHOTO: Sarah Sheppard

I began my JMU experience as a January transfer sophomore year, and I knew instantly that I 100% belonged both at my new school and in Kinesiology. I had studied Sport Management for the first three semesters of college at NC State University, but once I discovered Exercise Science after transferring, everything just clicked. I found all of the KIN classes to be challenging yet exciting and formed lasting relationships with my classmates, professors, and advisors. I completed my practicum with the Morrison Bruce Center for the Promotion of Physical Activity for Girls and Women and, among other things, helped to plan the first ever Color Blast 5k at JMU and organized a weekly Girls’ Golf event. I genuinely couldn’t have asked for a better undergraduate academic experience at JMU I only wish I’d been able to spend all four years in Harrisonburg!

The Present: My Internship/Job Experience

PHOTO: Sarah Sheppard

If you’re looking for an internship that’s directly related to exercise testing and prescription, training, and special populations, I hands down recommend Zacharias Ganey Health Institute (ZG) in Richmond. Long story short, it’s a medically based fitness facility owned by Dr. Madge Zacharias that specializes in a 10- or 12-week weight management program. Members come into ZG three days each week for an hour-long exercise class (30 minutes strength, 30 minutes cardio) led by a trainer in a group setting with the rest of their “classmates” (others in their 10-week weight management class). They also come in on a fourth day for a 90-minute lecture from Dr. Zacharias on various health and weight loss-related topics (metabolism, glucose intolerance, macronutrients, strength training, aerobic capacity, etc). Before they begin their program, each member needs a physical assessment including measurements, body composition (we use an InBody machine bioelectrical impedance), and a submaximal VO2 test. Their results are then graphed, individual heart rate ranges are determined, and daily caloric estimates are made. As an intern I had the chance to help with all aspects of the weight management program the initial assessments, exercise/nutrition prescription, and teaching exercise classes. The internship did involve plenty of busy work (stuffing binders, answering phone calls at the front desk, etc), but I found that the staff members often were more than willing to let me observe and learn the more in-depth tasks if and when I asked to help out.
My internship went so well that, during the final few weeks interning, I was offered full-time employment at ZG. I work mostly in the exercise science department, performing physical assessments on new members, writing up their assessment summaries, and also reassessing long-term members’ progress. I also work in our lab one or two mornings each week, where we use a finger prick to determine cholesterol/lipid profiles, fasting glucose, and A-1c values. My responsibilities do still involve some time spent at the front desk and aiding the administrative/membership department, but I honestly feel that the majority of my hours somehow utilize my degree and skills acquired in Kinesiology. I can say without a doubt that working at ZG has been the perfect first post-grad, full-time job. I work with fantastic (and fun!) health professionals and interact with motivated clients who are eager to learn as much as possible about exercise and nutrition lifestyle habits.

The Future: Graduate School/Assistantship

If you talked to me around the time of graduation, I would have told you I did not see myself going to graduate school anytime soon. I knew I wanted to get my foot in the door of the working world and, if I found the “perfect” job, stay there forever. I had my internship lined up at ZG for the summer and hoped to stay there as an employee for a while thereafter. It wasn’t until a random fall morning Google search somehow led me to a page showing the JMU Kinesiology graduate assistantships that were opening for the fall 2013 semester. The UREC fitness & nutrition graduate assistantship immediately grabbed my attention, as did the Campus Recreation Masters program. I spontaneously decided to email the GA position director at UREC, Holly Bailey, to schedule a meeting to sit down and talk more about the position. Fast-forward two months, and there I was on the phone with Holly formally accepting the position. I’ll be moving back to Harrisonburg this summer and will spend the next two years immersed in all things UREC and campus recreation I can’t wait to start the next chapter of my life back at JMU!