Sacred Heart University Gives Athletes and Students Hands-On Learning Opportunities

  • Exercise science students at Sacred Heart have the opportunity to work with DI and Olympic level athletes.
  • SHU's exercise science curriculum translates well into physical therapy careers.
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The Sacred Heart University (SHU) Pioneers call Fairfield, Connecticut home. In addition to being home to 33 NCAA Division I teams, the campus is also home to the Pioneer Performance Center. Here, Professor Matthew F. Moran is training the industry’s next generation of physical therapists and exercise scientists.

Formerly, Moran was the director of the Pioneer Performance Center. Now, he is the director of the exercise science program at SHU. An expert in orthopedic biomechanics and gait analysis as well as a former collegiate coach, Moran and his cohort of exercise science students regularly work with athletes from the school teams, as well as an extremely active SHU community, and occasionally Olympic athletes the likes of Kyle Merber. 

While training for the Tokyo Olympics, Merber worked with Moran at the Pioneer Performance Center for gait analysis testing after a hernia surgery left his stride feeling off. Gait analysis assesses muscular strength, flexibility and running motion by capturing and analyzing images of the body running at different paces. Moran was able to compile a report for Merber and his physical therapist that allowed Merber to fully recover and adjust his training routine accordingly.

Athletes that come to the Pioneer Performance Center are tested by students and staff across a wide range of musculoskeletal strength assessments, as well as physiological assessments such as lactate testing, to find ways for them to improve and create new training plans moving forward. Through both formal courses and as well as internships and student worker positions, SHU students obtain the real world skills they need to make an impact at athletic departments and medical facilities across the country.

“The Pioneer Performance Center is central to what we do as exercise scientists,” Moran told Front Office Sports. “We’re building students’ clinical skills and they’re seeing us, the faculty, working in our preferred field. We also want to disseminate our findings where appropriate. We’ll be submitting our recent work to the American College of Sports Medicine’s Annual Meeting. When I think of the Pioneer Performance Center, that experience is a microcosm of what we’re trying to do, which is to provide rich clinical educational experiences for our students.”

Today, several SHU alumni are working within the sports industry and, in many cases, pursuing their doctoral degrees. In a recent interview with Sacred Heart University Magazine, SHU graduate and current doctoral student at the University of Nebraska Omaha Kayla Kowalczyk said that working in the Pioneer Performance Center “helped me put my knowledge to the test and gain an improved understanding of what is taught in the classroom.”

When they are practicing on their own or furthering their study, they will draw back on their experiences examining and treating athletes in the Pioneer Performance Center. 

“Over 90% of our students will formally pursue a doctorate of physical therapy program. Our curriculum and these experiences dovetail excellently into that,” Moran said. “For so many physical therapy practices, gait analysis is central to what they do. I’m super excited about that because my current students get to see how what they’ve learned within our exercise science curriculum translates into a future career path as a physical therapist.”

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