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Nutrition Exercise and Health Sciences

Vince Nethery - Teaching Philosophy

My career as a professor of Exercise Science at Central Washington University began in 1988. Over these two decades, the philosophy underpinning my teaching has evolved to become more defined, partly because of the intuitive learning gained from practicing the art and science of teaching. More importantly however, this philosophy has been influenced by a high sensitivity to the dynamic nature of society, especially as it relates to health sciences, and the desire to educate exercise science students to contribute as productive and effective professionals. Students graduating from the graduate and undergraduate programs in exercise science gain employment in hospital based cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation clinics, specialized bariatric centers, and physical therapy- sports medicine clinics. They may also gain employment with corporate preventative health and wellness programs, private wellness- center clinics that contract with large corporations to help them curtail burgeoning medical costs, or partake in research and teaching at various educational or research institutes. This latter career often requires continuing their education at a higher level than CWU offers. Regardless of their career path, the graduate of exercise science must become educated about the facts- theknowledge base that forms the foundation. Although the value of some information is intuitively obvious, much is not and an understanding of the application of knowledge to the real world is required to gain an enhanced appreciation. This "eureka"phenomenon is most often behind the intrinsic desire to learn more- a genuine passion for further understanding. However, such passion becomes stunted and application ineffective in the absence of an ability to communicate the correct information at the appropriate level. Thus knowledge, application, passion, and communication (KAPC) are the philosophical cornerstones of my teaching. 


As with many other areas in science, the knowledge base of exercise science has developed over many centuries especially in the areas of human anatomy, human physiology, and biological chemistry. In studying exercise science, students are exposed to a new and seemingly often strange vocabulary requiring some memorization of facts. From the outset, I make no apology to students for the need to do this, insisting that they will not be able to effectively understand relevant material or to communicate with other professionals until they are familiar with appropriate terminology. However, to facilitate their understanding of terms, I frequently address the root of the term (often Latin or Greek) and inject into the discussion some other term or terms they may be more familiar with that share the same root. 

The current aging population and the exponential growth in health care costs has required a strong reflective assessment of past and current personal behaviors and health-care practices in modern society. The importance of physical activity as a treatment for and preventative measure against many current diseases such as Diabetes Mellitus Type 2 and Metabolic Syndrome, requires a solid understanding of inter-related aspects of chemistry, endocrinology, and exercise physiology. However, unlike many other areas of science, misinformation about exercise and exercise products abound in literature and other avenues of public information dissemination. The ability of the graduate to evaluate claims and to effectively articulate their efficacy requires a sound knowledge base. 

Exposure to the application of knowledge is often necessary for the student to understand the value of the knowledge. Such application requires careful orchestration of lecture information including appropriate injection of real-life scenarios, relevant discussion, peer group presentations, and laboratory exercises. For example, plasma glucose is affected by a number of inter-related factors including timing, volume, and composition of nutritional intake; current or future physical work being done by skeletal muscle; and the endocrine reactivity to changes in plasma glucose. Exposure to the complex interactions between a multitude of physiologic processes and behavioral practices such as the aforementioned, through laboratory experimentation, provides the student with some additional insight. Furthermore, the knowledge gained from such hands-on learning provides the student with the ability to better understand mechanisms underlying disorders such as diabetes and to be able to explain the many beneficial effects of physical activity on the diabetic individual. 

Students are well aware of the professional activities I pursue outside of the classroom that are directly related to the areas in which I teach. In the instructional setting, I try to convey a sense of the powerful passion I have for understanding the functional abilities of the human and the impact of disease and/or disuse on this ability. I often emphasize that, to be effective, the professional in this area must be passionate about the structural and functional attributes of the human. On one end of this functional spectrum, I consult with and conduct research on the overweight and obese with Drs. Gough and Girolami of Sound Health Solutions Bariatric Clinic in the Puget Sound area. This professional interaction has provided many instructional examples of the impact of overweight and obesity on disease and functional ability. Drs. Gough and Girolami invest much into believing that the disease conditions and reduced functional abilities of this population are largely reversible, and their primary goal is to educate the patients to take control of their condition by partaking in more healthful behaviors. My work with SHS has resulted in five research papers on clinic outcomes being presented at national meetings of relevant professional societies (ACSM, ADA, NAASO). In stark contrast to the aforementioned, projects have also been conducted on highly trained athletes in many areas including hydration, thermoregulation, and exercising in stressful environments. The assimilation into the instructional setting of information gleaned from such diverse research as noted above, provides a plethora of practical examples to draw from and demonstrates yet again, the profound passion I have for the subject matter. 

The ability to communicate clearly and concisely without sacrificing important detail is stressed in every class, whether through essay components of examinations, laboratory reports, term papers, or group presentations. My personal instructional methods are designed to be clear, concise, logical, relevant, and in sufficient detail to generate the expected appreciation for the material. Student feedback largely supports this view. In various classes including Physiology of Exercise, students are required to write laboratory reports that present the experimental results and an explanation of the observations (discussion). Model papers are made available for their perusal and the library reserve desk is stocked with over 40 reference books for their use. Extensive feedback is provided for the first few reports with the expectation that following reports will be of higher standards. Most papers are substantially improved by the third report and most students appreciate the feedback- even though they view the writing of such reports as difficult and time consuming. At the graduate level, quality writing and presentations are stressed even more as part of the preparation of the student for future careers, and for the presentation and defense of their research.