CLAS Acts June 2017

CLAS Acts June 2017 displaying image of hosta plants


In June the campus sees many bright faces full of anticipation arriving for orientation.  It puts us in the mood to run a great CLAS on the Green golf scramble on June 14 to build up our CLAS Endowed Scholarship to assist students in successfully moving through their curriculum toward graduation.  There is still time to sign up to golf or volunteer ( to help us run the day.

After that, the next work is wrapping up the fiscal year.  Later in the summer, you’ll receive the annual article about the budget and the way priorities are assigned.  These mechanics are important insofar as they express our values, and translate into student—and faculty—success.

Much is written these days about retention.  It isn’t a great word.  I won’t even mention its Freudian baggage—it’s too passive and bean-countish for my taste.  Let’s focus on what that shorthand is trying to express, that we need to help all students find ways to learn well, engage, find and pursue an intellectual passion, and hang in there to see their educational adventure through--and, in parallel, trying no more successfully to express that we want to see faculty flourish and achieve their own goals as well as university goals.

Institutional initiatives will have their role in our continuous improvement; we’re special, but the combination of slumping demographics, changing fiscal circumstances, evolving concepts of education and its delivery, and competition from better-heeled institutions desperate to scrape off some of our success means we can’t be satisfied, lest the fabled “Grand Valley Magic” become Grand Valley Drift.  But happily, much of the process of getting better comes in collegial hallway discussions, at FTLC Conferences, by way of great pedagogy shared, after reflection, through strategic scheduling mindful of both faculty and students, and by doing those important things that share a healthy unit culture with the students. 

Speaking of healthy, everybody around here is excited that the bird box on Eberhard Center installed by Todd Aschenbach (BIO) a few years ago has a little falcon family this year (I’m especially excited because as a West Catholic high school grad, I’m a former Falcon myself. Pictures of my storied portrayal of Freddie Falcon in a giant green paper mache head do not survive.  But lo, I digress).  Meanwhile, AWRI’s vessel, the D.J. Angus has some new weather and radar equipment that will support its educational mission.  Joel Stillerman (SOC) was interviewed by the New York Times on tiny houses. And Bill Hosterman (ART) was named an artist-in-residence at Crooked Tree Arts Center in Good Hart.  Spring and Summer 2017 seem to be off to a good start.

Going the Distance with Kyle Barnes

Assistant Professor of Movement Science Kyle Barnes is running hard.  Not only might you find him running a marathon, his research interests converge on the metabolic demands and perceived training load of endurance running.  In short, he wants to know how to run most economically and efficiently, and what can help a runner to do so.

Students also interested in picking up the pace are working with him to explore these questions.

Kyle’s commitment to involving GVSU athletes and movement science student researchers in his work may well stem from the way he found his passion.  Kyle grew up in Torch Lake, a 250-person town in northern Michigan, and he attended a small school which had a history of producing great runners.  One of these, Ryan Shay became the best in America and went pro.  While Kyle was a master’s student, Shay’s career looked to be set for the Olympics.  But at the Olympic Trials for the marathon, Shay suddenly collapsed and died.  Kyle lost a mentor and friend.  His perspective changed, pushing him toward running-related research.

Kyle realized he wanted to teach at the college level and decided to pursue the PhD in the area of sports performance which took him to New Zealand where there is strong interest in this area.  He had the opportunity to work at Athletics New Zealand and Triathlon New Zealand as those organizations worked to prepare athletes for the London Olympics.  Because one of the New Zealand Olympic athletes was attending the University of Michigan (and in the best tradition of serendipity), Kyle had reason to come back to Michigan.  In the process met another runner who would later become his wife.  After the London games, he had ample reason to return to the mitten state.

His dissertation was on Strategies to Improve Running Economy and his research to this day has a similar thrust.  

“One of the things I find is great about GVSU is the openness to collaboration.  People don’t hide what they are working on and this has led to great collaborations with Physical Therapy faculty on the downtown campus who use equipment relevant to my work.  They collaborate with Engineering, so now we’re all working together on projects.  I’m also working with our track and field and cross country teams as part of my service,” Kyle explains.

He recruits student researchers who don’t always realize the opportunities for undergraduate research and the great support afforded them by grants such as those from the Student Summer Scholars program.  He has a website where students can lodge their interest in participating in his research projects on “Perception of Training Dose in Cross-Country Runners: Effects on Performance” and “Effects of Weight Support on the Metabolic Demands of Running”.  He also uses social media and other means to raise awareness by our students of the great opportunities for research that they have.

On the shelves in his office are examples of the devices he uses to measure the effects of improving breathing or the effects of caffeine on performance.  Though all with a running performance focus, Kyle sees a field of study that is wide open for projects that he lists on a whiteboard in his office.    

“I know I can’t get to them all, but some will be great projects for student research or for other colleagues,” Kyle notes. 

After only a few years at Grand Valley, Kyle has a strong appreciation for the influence of colleagues’ hallway conversations as well as their research.  

"Exercise science is real science, ‘bench science’,” Kyle emphasizes.  “Our department has many published studies in the annual Author Recognition booklet produced by the GVSU library and a strong presence at Student Scholars Day I’d estimate that 90% of our research involves our students and in my case almost all of it does.”  

“Running economy has three aspects physiological, biomechanical, and neuromuscular,” Kyle explains.  He notes how individual research projects often involve one or two of those and suggest new avenues in the third.  “For instance, breathing tends to be physiological and neuromuscular; the more efficient the breathing the less energy must be used by the muscles.  With my students and an electronic breathing device, we can measure an athlete’s breathing while on a treadmill.  That’s great for athletic performance, but the cool thing is that we also learn things of wider applicability in clinical settings.” 

With particular pride he recalls student Allie Ludge who presented recently at the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting in Denver.  As almost an afterthought, he mentions that he presented, too.   

In the future, Kyle imagines widening his collaborative circle.  He is already aware of compelling work by a GV psychology professor and intends to reach out to nutritionists in the Biomedical Sciences Department.  

What Kyle describes as “a love of learning random things” does not seem so random after all.  Just the product of an active mind running in high performance mode.