In Philadelphia, high school graduation rates are low and childhood obesity is high – something the Sports Industry Research Center hopes to change.
The SIRC, a program within the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, supports organizations like “Black Girls Run!” and “Students Run Philly Style.” Both programs aim to improve Philadelphia’s overall health by giving the opportunity for participants to exercise, and get to know their community.
Christine Wegner, a second-year Ph.D. student in business administration with a concentration in tourism and sport, has been working with Students Run Philly Style since its launch in 2004. The yearly program starts in March and runs for about nine months, at the end of which the students participate in Philadelphia’s full or half marathon.
“For me, the most interesting thing about their program is that it’s not just an intervention, it’s a tool that teaches students about setting goals and the power of determination,” Wegner said. “[It is] a tool they can use for the rest of their life.”
She is also involved with Black Girls Run!, an organization designed to fight obesity in the African-American community by promoting healthy lifestyles and running events.
“This organization interests me partially for what it has been able to accomplish in such a short period of time,” Wegner said. “It has given black women the opportunity to create identities as recreational runners, a [forum within] Pennsylvania that is still currently predominantly white.”
By working with the SIRC, Wegner said she feels she’s established a positive relationship with the surrounding community.
“It’s really important to me to feel like my research is in some small way trying to help make the community a better place,” Wegner said.
The SIRC works with a variety of projects – some are ongoing and a few are one-time events. On average, the SIRC works with 10-15 programs each year.
Mikihiro Sato, a fourth-year Ph.D. student also in business administration with a tourism and sport concentration, is a research assistant for the Philadelphia Marathon and the Broad Street Run, two programs involved with the SIRC.
“My overall research goal is to better understand the role of sport and physical activities in promoting well-being,” Sato said. “Physical inactivity is a global public health concern. However, if these events can serve as a means to promote physical activity through working local running clubs, the events can be an effective community-based intervention to promote physical activity in communities.”
Some of the participants in the SIRC’s programs are at risk for obesity and health problems, Sato said, but it hopes to combat that issues as well.
“If marathon events can work with [Students Run Philly Style] or Black Girls Run!, the events may indirectly help improve academic performance and reduce juvenile arrests,” Sato said.
She said the commitment to physical activity often helps improve academics in local students simply because of the community support. The SIRC also offers executive workshops, community-based programming and event management. There are seminars in which industry professionals come to campus to promote the programs within the community.
Jeremy Jordan, associate professor in the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, has been the director of the SIRC for four years.
“I like that [the SIRC] allows us to do academic-based research that also values and benefits our various research partners that we work with,” Jordan said. “It provides opportunities for us to work with Ph.D. and [graduate] students as far as their skills to do research. It’s work that has a practicable application in the real world.”
Jordan said he feels strongly that the SIRC can help with more than just fitness.
“There is a correlation between physical activity and academic performance,” Jordan said. “The more physically active kids are, the more likely they are to have better academic performance. The marathons help students with goal setting. They give them a lot of self-confidence and that translates to schoolwork. If you can run a marathon, you can study for an exam.”
Rebecca Zoll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.