Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion evident in Kinesiology; Mary Rudisill, Ph.D. wins AKA Distinguished Leadership Award for Diversity Initiatives

February 26, 2019

Group photo of Kinesiology Faculty
Students from Florida A&M University (FAMU) visit Auburn University School of Kinesiology to learn about its graduate programs. Dr. Rudisill is pictured fourth from the left.

The Auburn University School of Kinesiology is one of the most diverse Kinesiology graduate programs in the country. Currently, the unit has 14 doctoral students and five faculty from underrepresented groups.

This year at the American Kinesiology Association (AKA) annual conference in January 2019, Mary Rudisill, Ph.D., Director of the School of Kinesiology, received the AKA Jerry R. Thomas Distinguished Leadership Award for doctoral departments for her leadership. One of the accomplishments recognized by the awards committee is the School’s diversity initiatives. Dr. Rudisill was also the first woman ever to receive the award.

“This award really recognizes the whole School’s commitment to increasing our diversity and providing opportunities for all students from various backgrounds,” said Rudisill. “Some of my best students have been first generation college students who are so dedicated, thankful, and brilliant.”

The award recognizes outstanding administrative and leadership performance that helps contribute to the unit’s strategic goals. There is only one award per level (doctoral, master’s, undergraduate, and associate’s degrees) when an eligible nominee clearly meets at least two or more of the criteria. Some of the criteria include building innovative curricula, expanding faculty and student research productivity, and establishing partnerships and outreach activities that significantly impact the unit.

The School of Kinesiology increased the number of its doctoral students and assistantships from 25 to 50 over the last eight years, which has tripled their research and teaching output. They serve over 1,000 Kinesiology students and serve another 1,000 students on campus every semester through their physical education courses. The additional graduate assistantships have provided more opportunities for students, particularly minorities.

One example of the School’s commitment to increasing diversity is the Future Scholars Summer Research Bridge Program started by Assistant Director Jared Russell, Ph.D., in 2012. The program aids in the recruitment and transition of junior and senior level undergraduates from traditionally underrepresented groups into Auburn’s School of Kinesiology graduate programs. Participants are provided with faculty mentorship, graduate-level academic preparation, and meaningful research, teaching, service, and outreach opportunities. A number of students have entered Auburn Kinesiology’s graduate program through the Bridge Program.

Chris Wilburn, Ph.D. (AU ‘18), who is now a Clinical Professor for the School of Kinesiology, was in the first cohort of the Bridge Program. He was also Auburn Kinesiology’s first African American Ph.D. graduate in the field of Biomechanics. He is a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, a historically black college from which Auburn Kinesiology often recruits. They host annual visit days for a handful of HBCUs, inviting students to come to Auburn and learn about its graduate programs.

Kinesiology graduate Jerraco Johnson, Ph.D. (AU ’18) first heard about Auburn when Dr. Russell came to a graduate school fair at Morehouse College in the Spring of 2013. Johnson also attended the Summer Bridge Program before he became a doctoral student under Dr. Rudisill.

“Dr. Rudisill is the most loving, caring, and thoughtful leader I have been under. She is wholeheartedly committed to diversity, but more importantly she is just as committed to inclusiveness,” said Johnson. “My experience here is a testament to both, as I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here. I can’t recall a time where she wasn’t available and willing to help me. She’s the best and I love her!”

Other notable graduates from Auburn Kinesiology include Korey Boyd, Ph.D. (AU ‘17) who is now an Assistant Professor of Physical Education at Springfield College in Massachusetts, and Bridget Peters, Ph.D. (AU ‘15), who is in her last year of medical school at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia. Peters was also in the first cohort of the Bridge Program.

In addition, the National Academy of Kinesiology completes NAK rakings of Kinesiology doctoral programs every five years. In the 2015 rankings Auburn’s Kinesiology program scored very high in the diversity category. The School’s doctoral program overall ranking was 14th in the nation. The 2020 rankings will be released in the Spring of 2020.