Instructor exercising a life-long dream

Ann Brennan September 2016

WCC faculty member Ann Brennan (center) monitors a student measuring oxygen volume of another student. The VO2 Max test is considered the gold standard for assessing overall fitness. (Photo by Jessica Bibbee)

Ann Brennan, part-time instructor in the exercise science program at Washtenaw Community College, spent years living abroad in England, Spain and France teaching and working in education administration.

Despite obtaining a wealth of national and international experiences and two degrees—a bachelor’s in political science from Miami University in Ohio and an MBA from the University of Maryland—Brennan felt she had more to offer.

“I’m married with two kids and I was spending so much time away from my family,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I was doing something worthwhile enough to justify that time away from them.”

When it came time to switch careers, Brennan drew inspiration from her childhood. She loved playing sports growing up, but decided to take that passion a step further and explore a career in exercise science.

That meant heading back to school—a real challenge due to raising a family and working fulltime. Brennan was apprehensive at first but says WCC made it possible.

“Between the cost, location and reputation, I knew I’d be in good hands at WCC,” she said.

After building a solid foundation at WCC, Brennan transferred to Eastern Michigan University (EMU) and graduated with a master’s degree in exercise physiology in 2014. After graduation, Brennan accepted part-time positions in research and clinical settings, in addition to a teaching position here.

WCC’s exercise science program is designed for those pursuing a career in health, wellness and fitness. Students can earn an associate degree in exercise science, which prepares them for American College of Sports Medicine certification exams.

Students can also continue their studies at a four-year college or university that offers degrees in sports medicine, kinesiology and physical education.

WCC has an articulation agreement with EMU that allows students to seamlessly transfer and earn their bachelor’s degree in exercise science.

Graduates go on to land a wide variety of jobs in the healthcare field, such as physical therapist, clinical exercise specialist, personal trainer, or physical education teacher. Of course many of these professions require further degrees.

At WCC, students learn how to measure fitness, including cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and flexibility, as well as body composition.

“Students practice measurement techniques on themselves and each other, while collecting and analyzing the data they collect,” Brennan said. “They also have access to specialized equipment that you can’t find anywhere else.”

The list of equipment includes a treadmill, metabolic cart, EKG machine, power-measuring bike and inversion table, which is used to test how the body responds to different positions versus gravity.

“We make sure our students are well prepared when they enter the field or transfer to another college,” Brennan said.

Her teaching style? A good mix of lecture-based and hands-on learning. Knowledgeable yet approachable. An emphasis on strong research and critical thinking skills, while also stressing the importance of common sense and empathy.

“A great deal of exercise science focuses on a specific body part or cell, but I remind my students to step back and think about how all of the parts work together to allow the body to function properly,” Brennan said. “At the same time, patients are real people, so listening and caring is equally important.”

Before making her way to WCC, Brennan worked as an administrator and program manager at large and small institutions, but she finds students at community colleges especially intriguing.

“WCC students are hard workers and they know what they want,” she said. “They’re highly motivated and each one has a unique reason why they’re here. They’re up against more barriers, and I just have such a respect and admiration for their choices and resilience.”

This story originally appeared in the October/November 2016 issue of On The Record.

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