New UNK Wellness Center Showcases Growing Health, Exercise Science Programs

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The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s new Wellness Center will attract more students to the nationally-known exercise science education and research program, says Nita Unruh, chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences.

“A facility like this for a campus our size is incredible. You're not going to find a facility like this past Lincoln until you get to Denver. We're it,” she said.

“I believe this facility is going to be a tremendous recruitment tool for the Kinesiology and Sport Sciences Department. Not only for exercise science, but for recreation, sport management and physical education.”

UNK officials say the $6.5 million Wellness Center is a new 19,000-square-foot facility east of Cushing Coliseum. The center opens Aug. 1 and includes program and research space, in addition to a large fitness center for students.

Unruh says the research space, named the Physical Activity and Wellness Lab, will allow students to better apply what they’re learning in the classroom.

“That experiential learning piece is critical,” she said.

UNK officials say the former lab, known as the Human Performance Lab, was shared by undergraduate majors in athletic training, physical education and health education. Exercise science majors will now have a dedicated space to engage in service and research activities.

UNK officials say the exercise science undergraduate program has tripled in size over the last 10years. Every core course in exercise science is at maximum capacity every semester. Each course has a lab component, and the new lab space will allow for 12-13 lab sections per semester. Only eight lab sections could be taught in the Human Performance Lab.

UNK officials say the new program space in the Wellness Center also features therapeutic equipment and rehabilitation zones for students studying athletic training, a major expected to grow in the coming years.
The Wellness Center will also feature a demonstration kitchen, which will be used during wellness and nutrition classes. The space also will be used for community-based programming.

They say a renovation of about 4,000 square feet of existing student recreation and classroom space inside Cushing Coliseum will be completed at a later date.


UNK officials say the state-of-the-art facility adds nearly 10,000 more square feet for exercise machines, weights, exercise and fitness classes, and group activities. Aerobic and weight equipment are in separate areas, and a new fitness studio will feature classes such as Zumba and yoga.

“There are many studies that say once a student or an individual is moving, their brain is working better,” Unruh said. “So having a facility where students can workout or relieve their stress is going to help them academically.”

But the feature that already has students talking is a 30-foot rock climbing wall. Unruh said the department hopes to eventually offer outdoor adventure opportunities, and the rock wall is just the beginning.


“The Physical Activity and Wellness Lab already has a strong community hold in what they do in developing better family relations and better health and wellness for families,” Unruh said.
The problem, she said, is that limited space prohibited the university from serving all of the families requesting services.

UNK officials say recent community outreach programs involving UNK include Building Healthy Families, Healthy Families School, Nebraska BMI Screening and Reporting System, Nebraska Kids Fitness and Nutrition Day, and UNKids – a study with the American Heart Association that is following 180 children annually.

Unruh said the increased space will allow UNK to serve families in nearby towns such as Elm Creek and Amherst, and possibly Lexington and Grand Island. BuildingHealthy Families could serve 20 families in the previous space, and it could serve 40-50 families in the new space.

“Without the students this wouldn't have happened,” Unruh said. “It took the student voice to make this happen, and I'm glad we listened. I'm very proud of all the students on this campus who said, ‘You know, this is important to UNK, and we're behind it.’”

UNK officials say a student wellness fee paid adopted in 2005 paid for $2.4 million of the Wellness Center project. The rest of the project was funded by $1.7 million in private donations and $2.4 million from university cash funds.