Inside the Academic Mind: Wes Dudgeon

Inside the Academic Mind: Wes Dudgeon

The chair of the Department of Health and Human Performance since 2016, Wes Dudgeon has been with the College for six years – eight if you count the two years he was a visiting professor from 2006 to 2008. In between, Dudgeon spent almost five years at The Citadel. We caught up with him to find out his love of sports, his area of expertise and his favorite office memento.

I grew up on a farm in Northwest Ohio, just a few miles from the Ohio and Indiana border. The “town” of Venedocia is actually just a grain elevator, post office and a few houses. Most families in my community were farmers, schoolteachers or factory workers. I would say it is a very stereotypical Midwest community.

I played most sports (baseball, soccer, basketball, cross county) in elementary/middle school, but gravitated toward basketball because I enjoyed it, was somewhat successful and I was about 6 feet tall starting in eighth grade! My high school basketball team was something like 86–14 during my four years as a starter, and we were state runners-up my junior year with a 26–1 record and were state champions my senior year at 27–0. I was an All-State selection my senior year.

I attended Malone College (now Malone University), where I was a four-year letterman on the men’s basketball team and earned honorable mention All-American and was an academic All-American a couple times.

I originally thought I wanted to be a physician, but honestly couldn’t handle the math for the pre-med track. Actually, I met my wife in that class, so looking back, maybe I was just a bit distracted! I met with the director of the sports science program at Malone and he showed me what a degree in that field could lead to (PA, PT, etc.), so I made the switch. It wasn’t until my junior year that I got interested in higher education. I shadowed physical therapists and realized that wasn’t something I was passionate about (a HUGE endorsement for students to job shadow before making graduate school decisions!). I then looked at what my professors did on a daily basis: teach in an area they were passionate about, conduct research on athletes/human performance/health and interact with students who are eager to learn. It seemed a great career choice, so I applied to graduate schools and attended the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina, earning my Ph.D.

Early in my career, my area of research focused on the impact of exercise training on individuals with HIV/AIDS. Briefly, we learned that those folks got stronger, lost weight, improved fitness and generally responded similarly (though at a slower rate) than persons without HIV/AIDS. Recently, I have been working in the area of sports/performance nutrition. We have studied supplements such as mushroom powder (which may actually improve endurance), various protein blends to help retain muscle mass and encapsulated capsaicin (the spicy part of peppers) impacts on metabolic rate. This spring, I began a study to look at the impact of intermittent fasting on health (cognitive function, cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, etc.) in young adult females.

Exercise science is very broad in terms of career paths. We have graduates who pursue performance-related fields and now own their own fitness companies or are strength and conditioning coaches. We also have alumni who are in Ph.D. programs and want to become researchers and/or teach in higher education. Finally, we have athletic trainers, dentists, physician assistants and physicians among our alumni.

Nationally, both public health and exercise science majors are growing at a fast rate because of the need for health care providers and public health workers both now and over the next two decades. We are adjusting the curriculum in both majors to provide students with marketable skillsets that will position them well for employment post-graduation and will also make them competitive for acceptance into graduate/professional schools. Further, all our courses relate in some way to the human body, whether it be exercise physiology, epidemiology, global health, biostatistics or biomechanics. Students seem to enjoy the fact that they can easily relate their course content back to human health/performance.

I have enjoyed teaching a number of classes at CofC, including exercise physiology, advanced exercise physiology, sports nutrition and research methods. If I had to choose a favorite, it would probably be exercise physiology because we touch on so many interesting topics, such as metabolism, nutrition, strength training, endurance training and the health impacts of exercise/physical activity.

It’s hard to pick one favorite object in my office, but the “art” my daughter gives me is special, as are the pictures of my wife and kids. I also have a couple of pictures from my basketball-playing days, and a few times a semester students are surprised by those pictures; not so much that I was an athlete, but that I had a full head of hair!

To stay in shape, I enjoy jogging around town – how can one not enjoy the scenery?! I still play basketball a bit on campus, and I like strength training because research is showing how important maintaining muscle mass is for overall health, especially as we age.

For fun, I like to travel with my family (we went to Italy over spring break), hang out at the beach and play with my kids (ages 7 and 3).

I love to read and at heart I am a history buff, so I have enjoyed reading the Killing series by Bill O’Reilly over the last few years. I also try to read books that relate to my discipline and have recently read How Not to Die by Michael Greger and Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, and I love Robert Sapolsky’s book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. But the book I spend the most time with is the Bible, as it pertains to all areas of my life, from parenting and leadership to relationships with other people.

Featured image of Wes Dudgeon by Mike Ledford.