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Jeffers: a favorite among students

May 4, 2013
By Jim Tate , Marshall Independent

Leave it to an educator like Brent Jeffers to not waste a teaching moment, even if it's at his own peril.

Jeffers, an avid woodworker and this year's winner of the Cowan Award, was in his Apple Valley home some years ago, working on a project that included the use of a power saw.

Something went wrong, and the saw cut into his right hand, leaving quite a gash.

"As I stood there bleeding to death, I was thinking, 'Wow, this is amazing. I can see metacarpal number three, my ligaments and my bones,'" he said.

Jeffers, an associate professor of exercise science, relayed that story to SMSU student Yousif Youboty, who included it in an English paper for a class taught by Assistant Professor of English Marianne Zarzana.

Jeffers is the 11th winner of the Cowan Award, the most prestigious award handed out by the university. He will be given a special medal on May 11, when 648 SMSU students graduate during ceremonies in the R/A Facility starting at 10 a.m.

Jeffers was instrumental in exercise science becoming a major in 2010. He's a leader in the faculty union on campus. He thinks before he talks, and when he does speak, people listen.

He's also a favorite of the students. It's rare that a professor garners unanimous words of praise on the website www.ratemyprofessor.com, but sure enough, he accomplishes that feat on a site where students so often go to take cheap shots at faculty members.

"He even canceled his dinner plans to help me review class material." "Without a doubt the best teacher I've ever had in high school or college." "Awesome teacher!" "Will help you with anything you need, class-related or not. He actually listens." Those are some of the comments written about Jeffers and mirror the reputation he has on the campus of SMSU.

He's a favorite among students for many reasons, not the least because he relates to the students. He can talk their language and makes himself available to help the students at any time of the day.

He is from Minneapolis and graduated from Minneapolis South High School. He earned a two-year physical education degree from Inver Hills Community College, then went on to Bemidji State, where he earned a bachelor's degree in physical education and a master's in sports science.

He was head football coach at Inver Hills before taking the offensive coordinator position at SMSU under then-head coach Gary Buer. Jeffers would later serve as head coach at SMSU from 1993-96. He left coaching in 1997 because he wanted more time in the classroom.

The exercise science degree at SMSU grows each year.

"We're finishing our third year. It's located in the science department because a significant portion of the classes (include biology and chemistry)," he said. There are 130 exercise science majors at SMSU, he said.

It's an academic area that's popular now, he feels.

"Exercise science really only became a discipline in the early- to mid-1990s," he said. "It's taken a decade for it to be recognized as a discipline and a profession and to trickle down to the high schools. Five to seven years ago, no one had heard of it."

A lot of the SMSU students majoring in exercise science "are pre-professional students," he said. "They are planning on going into physical therapy, occupational therapy, pre-chiropractic, physician's assistant, athletic training. There's some correlation with the rising need for health care. The move is there to try and change the culture of the country, to preventative health. Baby boomers are reaching retirement age, and there's an increased need for low-cost providers - not a surgeon or specialist, but an exercise specialist, someone who can take exercise into the community or home and do something with the patient before a hospital stay is required."

And, he said, it's a competitive field.

"Mankato and SDSU have it, and community colleges often have exercise science AA degrees,"?he said. "We distinguish ourselves from other undergraduate programs because our students get actual experience working with clients, they get experience with physical therapy and working with our disabled population."

That face-to-face contact, combined with what's taught in the classroom, makes the SMSU degree unique, he feels.

Movement analysis is a part of exercise science.

"When I started, we had 16 mm film," he said. "We learned in class how to splice film." When Louisville University player Kevin Ware broke his leg during the NCAA tournament, "I got messages right away, asking how that could happen, asking what it was going to take for rehab. Technology allows our students to rewind, put it on pause, do critical analysis in the palm of their hand," he said.

The Cowan Award is humbling, he said.

"As I look at the names of those winners who have come before me, and all they have done, I don't think my efforts equate to their achievements,"?he said.

Jeffers and his wife, Mary, are the parents of three adult children: Jamaica, Jordan and Tristan.

He's done many remodeling jobs on the family's home and is hoping he can avoid further catastrophic anatomy lessons.

 
 

 

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