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Adaptability an asset for Monmouth's Schumm

Barry McNamara
08/01/2017
Sean Schumm with Andrew Hardy '19
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Sean Schumm has never found the perfect textbook to teach exercise science or physiology, but that’s OK. He adapts in the classroom and makes it work for his Monmouth College students, much like they will have to make things work when they begin their own professional careers.

“I’ve never taught chapter-by-chapter in a textbook,” said Schumm, who chairs the kinesiology department and was promoted to associate professor this spring. “I’ve never found one that did everything I wanted it to do. As a professor, you’ve got to be flexible, so I’m not a slave to doing things a certain way. You’ve just got to figure it out as you go, because every class is different, and every student is different.”

His students appreciate his flexible approach, including 2016 graduate Amy Olson, who was recently honored as one of the top first-year teachers in Illinois.

“One of the main lessons I learned was from Dr. Schumm,” she said. “I had him for ‘Exercise Physiology,’ and we always had all sorts of questions for him. I remember him saying a lot, ‘It kind of just depends.’ That translates to, ‘Every situation is different and you have to be able to adapt.’”

Schumm said he takes pride in providing a “framework” for students.

“I try to teach them the framework to figure out what to do with the information,” he said. “I believe teaching is the art of challenging the students to learn as much as they can, while still keeping them interested and not overwhelmed. That’s a difficult balance between making things too easy and having them check out because they don’t understand.”

Schumm said the majority of students in the College’s exercise science program will become “some type of hands-on practitioner.”

“So I need to teach them practical, real-world knowledge and make it really applied and useful in real life,” he said. “That’s how I’ve always learned and what’s always resonated with me. I try to give my students tools, rather than just a bunch of facts.”

Schumm didn’t originally set out to be a teacher. But as his interests in nutrition and exercise evolved, he came to an important realization.

“When I was in the Air Force in San Antonio, I taught classes as part of my job,” he said. “It might be talking to nursing students, or giving lectures to Air Force trainees on such things as weight loss or cholesterol management. I was getting to talk about things I was interested in, so I view teaching at Monmouth as being able to do that five days a week. It’s fun.”

Growing up as a student-athlete in Manito, Ill., Schumm said he developed an interest in lifting weights and nutrition, pursuing the latter area when he attended nearby Bradley University, graduating in 1997.

Schumm was then in the Air Force for seven years. Although he gained some teaching experience during that time, he said, “The job began pulling me away from hands-on teaching into more of a management role, which didn’t appeal to me.”

So Schumm went back to school and earned a master’s degree at Appalachian State (N.C.) University and a Ph.D. six years ago from Ohio University. The position at Monmouth is his first as a professor.

“I ended up at Monmouth for a couple of reasons,” he said. “Geography was one, as there was definitely an appeal to come back to Illinois and be closer to family. I’ve been away since 1997. I also liked the fact that there was no exercise science program in place. Part of the hire was to get the program started. It’s nice to have that autonomy to come in and make a program your own, creating it from the ground up.”

Schumm is also part of another developing academic program, joining with faculty from psychology and modern languages, literatures and cultures to create the College’s Global Public Health Triad.

“I’m really excited about that – it brings in some of my old interests and my background,” said Schumm, who worked at a large teaching hospital while in the Air Force, and was at another hospital for five years while pursuing his doctorate. “I’m able to use that background and dovetail it into a little more of a health focus for our students.”

Schumm said the Triad “will give our students interested in health a few more angles to pursue health from. It will give them more options.”

Or, put another way, it will provide another set of tools to help Monmouth students adapt to an ever-changing world.