STEM is anyone who studies in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. As an Exercise Sports Science major I never considered myself a STEM student, but now I realize I am a different part of the STEM field. Going to Oregon State, which is primarily a STEM university, I found it hard to relate to other STEM students because they were taking so many core science classes. Since I have been at the University of Otago, I see that we have so much more in common than I thought.
Exercise Sports Science Abroad
Being abroad in New Zealand has really helped me focus on my major and realize that I am part of the umbrella of people included in the STEM field. Since I have been in New Zealand, I have had time to focus on the science portion of my degree through my classes at the University of Otago. I discovered that I have all this amazing support for STEM students around me, such as tutoring and one-on-one appointments with faculty. One of the classes I’m taking abroad is ‘Exercise Metabolism’, which is how the body handles macronutrients consumed during exercise. This class includes a lab with a lot of work to test different exercises and how they affect the body, as well as how the body responds to exercise. I really enjoy this class because it gives me a sense of the practical application of how the body works under certain stresses and it has shown me how the body is more complex than people think it is.
‘Prescription of Physical Activity,’ as my teacher says, is a difficult science especially when it comes to prescribing exercise to people with health concerns that could put restrictions on their ability to perform certain exercises. The lab for this class includes testing exercises and learning how to help prescribe them to people under certain conditions. The lab included practicing exercises and showing people how to perform them in a safe manner. During the lab for this class we practice with partners as if they were real clients and show them proper technique when it comes to exercise. Another class I’m taking is ‘Medical Aspects of Physical Activity and Exercise,’ which gives us a chance to see how exercise affects the body with any kind of health concerns.
How the Courses Differ from the U.S.
The courses here at the University of Otago are different then ones back home because of the hands-on experience and the application of science during class and lab. The labs include work with partners, and for some it involves working with real people from the area you live in. In my experience, the lab facilities are bigger here and are well-equipped with all the supplies you could need to test the body in ways you need to. The support STEM students receive here is amazing for anyone who needs help with any course. That help includes tutoring, or someone to talk to about your major. Personally, I have gone in to talk to tutors about ways I can work in lesson plans, how to study certain material, and how to study more efficiently.
One of my flatmates is part of the chemistry club at Otago, and she is always talking about how they work with students to redo experiments and talk them through the steps and the process of what they are doing. This gives the students the chance to learn without feeling rushed like they may in a lab or lecture when trying to understand a concept in class. There is nothing worse than a teacher who doesn’t make sure their students understand the material they are working on in class.
Part of the Bigger Picture
During my time here I have met a few other students who are also studying Exercise Sports Science, but they call their major Kinesiology. Like me, they never considered themselves STEM majors, but now we realize we are all part of the group of students studying science just in a different way. One thing I did notice, was when the University of Otago had its societies and clubs day, there was no sign of a STEM club. The offices of each major do have their own clubs, so hopefully someday they will merge together to benefit everyone in the STEM field.
STEM Looking Forward
As my time in New Zealand comes to an end soon, I will make my transition back to the U.S. school system again and I can’t wait to see what my future in STEM holds. If you are an Exercise Sports Science major or any STEM major, consider studying abroad! Know there is support out there waiting to help the next generation of STEM students who want to study internationally.
Jennifer Castro is an exercise and sports science major at Oregon State University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at the University of Otago in Spring 2017. She is a First Generation Scholar for IFSA-Butler through the First Generation Scholarship Program.