Associate professor of exercise science Pam Richards will say she has two generations of students: those who return to the idyllic, tree-lined Central College campus 20 years after graduation, enthusiastically greeting her with a hearty, “Coach!” and those who sit in her classroom today, calling her Dr. Richards. It’s a distinction so small, so casual, that most might not make anything of it, but at its core, it’s representative of the varied and rich career Richards has forged in the exercise science department at Central for 35 years.
After an academic career that started in her home state of Pennsylvania and culminated in the completion of her Ed.D. at the University of Northern Colorado, Richards found her way to Pella in 1984. “To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t anything specific about Central, it was about the professional opportunity,” she offers, citing the chance to be both a professor and a coach as the main motivation for taking the position. She had no idea how special her new workplace was—or the fact that it would end up being the place where she fulfilled her career goals while leading a new generation to follow their aspirations.
Richards maintained her position as the women’s cross country and track coach for 10 years before deciding to focus solely on teaching. She still passionately champions the intersection of both exercise and science. Currently a high-demand staple at college campuses across the United States, the growth of exercise science programs coincidentally lined up alongside the flourishing of Richards’ own career. She credits the opportunity to watch Central’s exercise science program transition from applied teaching and recreation to specific subdisciplines that didn’t exist when she was starting her career to the luck of the universe.
“I’ve been really, really lucky in that my life was timed along with the growth of the science of exercise.”
— Pam Richards
“I’ve been really, really lucky in that my life was timed along with the growth of the science of exercise,” she says, mentioning the beauty of multitudes of specialties that now exist within the subject, like exercise physiology, sports nutrition and biomechanics.
The profound impact of Richards’ intellectual passions also made way for sincere human connection with her students. While the small-school environment was something she knew little about when starting her tenure at Central, it provided her with a level of colleague and student engagement that was unavailable to her in her own college years. When asked what the most rewarding aspect of her career has been, she says being an educator at a small institution allows her to watch her students be successful.
In just one instance of many, a young and exuberant student named Jeff McMartin ’90 came into Richards’ office years ago and explained he wanted to become a college football coach, asking what he needed to do to accomplish his goal. Under the tutelage of Richards and her colleagues, he grew his skillset, went out into the world to gain experience and, come 2004, stepped foot again on Central’s campus as Coach McMartin, Central’s head football coach, a position he still maintains.
“That’s just one example of watching people share their dreams,” Richards says. “You help figure out how to develop an academic program, support them, watch them go out and come back to be a part of this community. I don’t know very many jobs where you have those kinds of opportunities.”
EXERCISE SCIENCE AT CENTRAL
- Majors can study health promotion, health and exercise science, physical education or strength and conditioning
- Nine faculty members focused on exercise science
- More than 30 percent of majors attend graduate school immediately following graduation