At its core, academic service-learning at the University of Central Arkansas is designed to integrate community service with instruction to positively impact the learning experience. One uniquely effective and practical example of this learning style exists between the College of Health and Behavioral Sciences, the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and area law enforcement agencies.
Within those two colleges, the Department of Exercise and Sport Science and the Department of Sociology, Criminology and Anthropology created a unique partnership with the UCA Police Department, Conway Police Department, Arkansas State Police and the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office. Through the partnership, exercise science students practice facilitating physical training by helping aspiring law enforcement officers prepare for fitness tests.
Michael Gallagher is the program director and an associate professor of exercise science. He and Sherry Skaggs, an associate professor of criminology, started preliminary work for a service-learning project between the programs in 2016 and officially kicked off the project in Spring 2017. After a temporary hiatus due to the pandemic, the project is back with the necessary adjustments to ensure health and safety.
Seniors Spencer Cowgill and Nick Zakrzewski were paired together in early September 2021.
Cowgill is studying exercise and sport science, and Zakrzewski is a criminology major. Cowgill’s assignment is to help Zakrzweski pass cadet fitness assessments by giving him a prescription for training.
Cowgill became interested in this field when he was a middle school student playing organized sports in Texarkana, Texas. He was fascinated with the coaching aspect as well as learning about how the human body works. His interest grew in high school when he took an anatomy and physiology class.
“I knew I wanted to carry that on into college and really get a good grasp of what that means,” Cowgill said.
Zakrzewski always admired the police officers in his own neighborhood in North Little Rock. He knew since he was a child he wanted to be in law enforcement.
“I wanted to help people, and I wanted to be like the people I looked up to in my community,” he said. “Fortunately, with good grades, I started to explore the possibility of pursuing that on a higher level.”
The students knew from the beginning the relationship would be mutually beneficial. Not only did their personalities mesh well together, Cowgill and Zakrzewski also encouraged each other to grow in their respective fields.
In his studies, Cowgill has been able to participate in hands-on activities with his classmates to solidify a foundational knowledge of the human body. That prepared him for his Prescription for General Populations course where he was paired with Zakrzweksi who enrolled in the Police and Society course.
“In order to write a good prescription for the population you must have knowledge of anatomical kinesiology, exercise physiology and motor development,” said Kim Eskola, senior clinical instructor who has been working in the service-learning portion of the course for two years.
Students in the police and society course have the unique opportunity to be more hands-on in their partnership with local law enforcement than any other course like it in the country. Eskola says this partnership helps students gain real-world experience and strengthen their skills. Criminology students like Zakrzewski get an exercise prescription for fitness assessments, exercise science students have opportunities to increase their competency, and community law enforcement partners get to connect with potential hires.
As a part of the course, Zakrzewski has to pass fitness assessments for each of the law enforcement agencies. He said they can certainly be challenging.
“I need to know the expectations I need to have for myself in order to pass them in the future,” he said. “I told Spencer my goals, and he told me what I needed to do to not only achieve them but to exceed them. He knows the full depth of what I have to do in order to succeed. Under his guidance, I know that as long as I stick to it — and I will — I’m not going to have a problem achieving these goals.”
Cowgill appreciates Zakrzewski’s drive, and having a variety of clients with different needs helps make him a better trainer.
“Nick has great discipline,” Cowgill said. “Sometimes when you’re personal training, you have to work with people who have a lot to learn in the gym. With Nick I am more of a motivational coach, not having to train him in every aspect of the workout.”
Cowgill and Zakrzewski’s relationship is a good example of what Eskola hopes students take away from the experience: service, learning and practical application.
“When you’re doing prescriptions and working with individuals, everybody is different. You have to think about if a certain intensity, activity, or prescription is relevant and valuable to that individual,” she said. “The project has been beneficial for the students to work together but also learn about other disciplines.”
There is another benefit to this service-learning project. Zakrzewski and Cowgill have become friends this semester and hope to stay in touch after graduation.