posted September 29, 2009

Jaci L. VanHeest to Receive “Hope for Humanity” Award

 The alumni H-Club at Hope College will present its "Hope for Humanity Award" to Dr. Jaci L. VanHeest of Enfield, Conn., on Saturday, Oct. 10, during the college's Homecoming Weekend.  A 1984 Hope graduate, she is an exercise physiologist on the faculty of the University of Connecticut whose work to counteract childhood obesity has received national attention.

The "Hope for Humanity Award," first presented in 1990, recognizes Hope athletic alumni for consistent service to others and demonstrating the values of Christian commitment and service. The H-Club consists of Hope alumni who were athletic letter winners and other honorary letter winners as approved by the H-Club's Board of Directors.

The group will honor VanHeest during its annual Homecoming luncheon, which will be held in the Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse.

VanHeest is an associate professor in the departments of kinesiology and educational psychology at the University of Connecticut.  The university in 2006-07 inducted her as a University Teaching Fellow, which is the school's highest recognition for teaching excellence, given to faculty based on teaching innovation, integration of their research program into classroom teaching, and pedagogical service to the national and inter-national communities.

Her two primary research emphases are in the areas of overweight children, and of exercise and bioenergetic demands and endocrine function in elite female athletes.  She is co-author of the book "Functional Human Anatomy Laboratories," and has written several book chapters and articles featured in refereed professional publications.

In 2004, working in cooperation with a local elementary school, she created the program "PawPALS" (Physical Activity as a Lifetime Skill), a before-school physical activity program for overweight children.  Deemed successful by teachers, parents and participants alike, the program has received local and regional as well as national media attention, including features in "Sports Illustrated" and "USA Today," and segments on NBC Nightly News and MSNBC.

VanHeest's additional activities include serving as president of the New England Chapter of the AmericanCollege of Sports Medicine and as co-director of Get SSET (Girls in Sport Science, Engineering and Technology), a program at MIT designed to increase mathematics and science interest/capacity through sport for middle-school and high-school girls.  She is also a member of the Female Athlete Triad Coalition and of Strategic Health Initiatives for Women and Girls.

Her community involvement has included volunteering with the Special Olympics and with ParaOlympic Swimmers, working with Meals on Wheels and local food drives, teaching Sunday school at her church and working with youth groups, and volunteering with the Hartford Coalition for Health Children and the Connecticut Policy Action Committee for Health.  She has returned to Hope for reunions and Homecoming events, and chaired the external review committee for the college's department of kinesiology in 2008.

VanHeest graduated from Hope with a major in physical education.  Her activities as a student included intercollegiate field hockey and serving as a member of the student staff of the college's Dow Center, as well as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Nykerk Cup competition.

After Hope, she did graduate work at Michigan State University, completing a Master of Science in exercise physiology in 1988 and a doctorate in exercise physiology in 1993.  She has also held National Institutes of Health Post-Doctoral Fellowships at the University of Cincinnati and the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

After completing her graduate degrees, she served as director of physiology with United States Swimming and as an assistant professor and instructor in the department of biology of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.  She is in her 11th year with the University of Connecticut.