Ithaca College Will Make You Ready
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School of Health Sciences and Human Performance | Exercise Science
“My job is pretty cool, especially on those days when I get to fly in an F-18.” For Pat Dougherty, those flights are the culmination of years of study that started at Ithaca College.
The exercise science graduate had always played sports, but his professors turned him on to running studies, which he immediately found himself drawn to. “I was curious about how the body worked and exercise physiology is a lot about running at its core. If I was going to study it, I might as well do a lot of it. So that’s when I started running marathons and since then I’ve switched to triathlons.”
Pat’s passion for exercise science led him to pursue his master’s degree and later his doctorate, but that’s where things took a turn. “I realized an academic career wasn’t for me. I wanted something a little more exciting, so I applied and was eventually commissioned as a lieutenant in the Naval aerospace physiology program in 2009.”
Now Pat spends his days providing training for anyone in the service who might be involved in flying. The physiological threats a member of a flight crew can be exposed to include hypoxia, which is a special disorientation that occurs when there isn’t enough blood flow to the brain. This happens sometimes in flights that reach multiple g-forces, and it can have catastrophic results. One of the tools Pat has at his disposal is the only “high-G” human centrifuge in the U.S. Navy, which spins its subjects under multiple g-forces to mimic the sensations hypoxia may bring.
“It’s like a wicked carnival ride. There’s a big motor in the center, and we spin them around in this room, which exposes them to increased accelerations like they would feel in the air. I’ve gone through it a few times, so I can safely say that it’s pretty intense.”
Come February, Pat will move to Corpus Christi, where he will become an air medical safety officer. It’s another challenge he feels completely ready for. “I haven’t taken the most linear path since I left Ithaca, but everything I learned on South Hill has helped push me to the next level of my career.”
>> More on this story: Watch a video of pilot training in the human centrifuge
Computer science and history are not commonly paired in the classroom. But at Ithaca College, professors Ali Erkan and Michael Smith have begun a collaboration that may help improve the way students learn.
The project began because of computer science professor Ali Erkan’s curiosity. He wanted to look at how students use wikis—websites developed collaboratively by a community of users who can add and delete information—so he could research and create a visual map of the way the students make connections between ideas. He asked himself, If students produce things that can be visualized as structures, will that allow us to understand understanding itself?
“I think computer science allows you to develop the tools to work on that question—but then you need a context,” Ali says. “I thought the humanities would be the best context to explore, and I had to find the right person to work with.”
Ali had just the person in mind—a history professor he had met during a bus ride in Ithaca a couple years earlier and had since interacted with on the IC campus. He emailed Michael Smith to share his idea.
“The fact that Ithaca, both as an institution and a community, is small enough that you can have these kinds of interpersonal connections that can then become more formal collaborations is something I really value,” Michael says. “In some ways I’m an odd choice because I’m a little bit of a digital skeptic, but when Ali approached me with this idea of using wikis as a way of representing knowledge—that you could kind of lift up the hood and see some structures in there—I was intrigued.”
Ali and Michael have been working with students in both their fields to further explore the project’s questions. They created a grant proposal and received a digital humanities start-up grant from the National Endowment for Humanities. They hope that by gaining understanding of how thought connections are formed, they can eventually help students improve how they research and learn.
Ithaca College has given them the support they need to make the project a success. “It is a teaching-oriented institution, so we’re encouraged to be innovative and emphasize teaching excellence in all sorts of ways. So this is a way to remain active as scholars and at the same time improve what happens in our classroom,” says Michael.
“There’s no quota for the amount of papers you have to write or the amount of money you have to bring in. Those things are in place at other institutions so that there’s more research productivity, but I think it ends up being a hindrance on the research,” Ali says. “We both feel liberated by not operating under those constraints, so we can simply follow our curiosity, and that becomes our optimum point of operation. Because we are curious, we are productive.”
>> More on this story: Untangling the Web
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