exercise and sports science - Oxley College of Health Sciences

exercise and sports science

Exercise and sports science student and alumnus heading to dentistry school

“Our exercise and sports science (EXSS) program is incredibly versatile in terms both of the material students encounter as well as career pathways after graduation,” remarked Eric Wickel, chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Rehabilitative Sciences at The University of Tulsa. Approximately 25% of EXSS students follow the program’s pre-med track. Most do so in order to prepare to enter medical school. But becoming a physician is not the only option. Recently, a current EXSS student – Kimmie Koors – and an alumnus – Rowdy Simon (BS ’18) – decided to use their EXSS knowledge and skills to embark on careers in dentistry.

Different journeys, same destination

Koors is a senior in the EXSS program’s pre-med track, minoring in psychology. A hard-working individual, she intends to graduate from TU in May after just three years of undergraduate study. On January 7, Koors was elated to receive word that she had been accepted to study at Missouri School of Dentistry and Oral Health at A.T. Still University. She will spend two years in Kirksville for didactic learning, followed by two in St. Louis. “After that, I’ll see whether I stay with general dentistry or possibly pursue orthodontics,” Koors said.

The desire to be a dentist is longstanding for Koors. “Ever since I was little, I feel like it’s been an innate thing in me to want to become a dentist,” she recalled. “When I was young, I used to brush my teddy bear’s teeth. Then I started brushing my dog’s teeth before I went to bed. By seventh grade, I was convinced that dentistry could be a perfect career for me. Shadowing my dentist, Dr. Casler, made it clear I could be a dentist too. My goal is to improve people’s quality of life by giving them great dental care.”


The year 2020 started off on a high note for Simon, too. Originally from Vian, Oklahoma, Simon heard in January that he had been accepted into the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry doctor of dental surgery program. Unlike Koors, however, the idea to pursue dentistry arose rather late to Simon.

When he was a student at TU, Simon followed EXSS’s general rather than pre-med plan (he also earned a minor in psychology). During his undergraduate years, Simon thought he might like to become a physician. Through EXSS, he was able to shadow two orthopedic surgeons at Eastern Oklahoma Orthopedic Center. “I enjoyed these experiences,” he said, “but I still wasn’t sure a career in medicine was right for me. I therefore began researching various occupations involving patient interaction. Dentistry was brought to my attention, so I started shadowing my hometown dentist. I fell totally in love with the dental field. I suddenly knew this was what I was meant to do: become a dentist.”

Building on a firm EXSS foundation

Reflecting on the preparation the EXSS pre-med track has given her, Koors underscored the variety of disciplines to which she has been exposed: “You’re getting to work with physical therapists, occupational therapists and others. And that prepares you for dentistry, where work involves collaborating with periodontists, endodontists, orthodontists and other specialists. I also really loved learning about exercise and health. Having an EXSS sports science background has allowed me to learn about the entire body, and that’s really important not only for medical school but also for dentistry.”

Golden Hurricane football player Rowdy Simon running with a football
Rowdy Simon during his Golden Hurricane days

During his years at TU, Simon balanced his EXSS studies with playing football for the university’s Golden Hurricane team. “My professors were so willing to accommodate my student-athlete schedule and to help in any way possible,” he recalled. For example, his advisor was able to help Simon organize a heavier course load in the spring and a lighter one in the fall, which helped with the demands of football season.

“The EXSS courses themselves were always informative and applicable to real-life scenarios,” said Simon. “And the faculty – in particular, Greg Gardner and Ron Walker – were nothing but attentive and caring from the minute I set foot on campus. I never had a super-high GPA or was the smartest student in the classroom. You could even say I had a kind of ‘walk-on’ mentality. My professors all gave their absolute best and were passionate about the program and their students’ success. That dedication empowered me to lay a solid academic foundation for my future in dentistry.”

Koors also credited her EXSS professors for her great experience in the program: “The instructors are so motivated to help you learn. They know everyone’s name. They know everyone’s goals. In the labs, our instructors help you apply the knowledge from lectures and they give you that hands-on experience you need to work with patients and clients. On the research side, they urge us to explore topics we’re interested in. For example, I was able to deepen my knowledge of dental cavities as well as Achilles tendon tears and ruptures in athletes.”

From classwork to patient care

After graduating from TU, Simon completed pre-requisite courses for dentistry school at Tulsa Community College and Northeastern State University – Broken Arrow. He then began working as a registered dental assistant (RDA). Simon also took the Dental Admission Test (DAT), and he is currently employed as an RDA in Fort Smith, Arkansas. “This practical experience,” he said, “is reinforcing my passion for dentistry and desire to help others.”

In addition to her coursework, Koors gained experience by spending several summers and two internships shadowing Dr. Casler, as well as by volunteering with Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma’s (CCEO) dental care division. Every Tuesday evening, she assists the dentists who provide services to CCEO’s clients. This community-service experience has reinforced in Koors a desire “to bring dental care to individuals that might not otherwise have access for financial or location reasons. I am particularly interested in someday working in a rural community.”

Are you interested in exploring all the stimulating learning and career options TU’s exercise and sports science program offers?

New direction: From exercise and sports science to an MBA in health care delivery sciences

A not uncommon career aspiration for students in Oxley College of Health Science’s bachelor of exercise and sports science program is to become a physical or occupational therapist. Those were two of the professions Mary Beth Sawyer contemplated when she began her undergraduate studies at The University of Tulsa.

Somewhere along the route, however, Sawyer’s interests began to change. Now, in the summer after she graduated with her BS EXSS degree and a minor in Russian studies, Sawyer is looking forward to beginning her MBA in health care delivery sciences and certificate in health care delivery sciences at TU in just a few short months.

“I came to TU with a very different idea for my life, and the one I’m coming out with is even better,” Sawyer commented. “I wouldn’t be able to say that if it weren’t for the amazing professors we have here and the community I’ve been able to find at this university.”

This does not mean that Sawyer will be giving up on athletics. Rather, she will have an opportunity to channel her interests in a new direction.

A health care system that needs to change

A major source of inspiration for this change arose through Sawyer’s participation in spring 2019 in the course In Sickness and In Health: Analyzing the U.S. Health Care System. Taught be Jeffrey Alderman, the director of the Institute for Healthcare Delivery Sciences, led the course and introduced Sawyer to many new topics and perspectives. These included, Sawyer noted, “the different ways we provide health care and some of the ways we handle insurance. It made me angry, but I want to go out and help to make things better.”

In particular, Sawyer was drawn in that course to the potential of “preventative care” to make a profound difference. This was something she had actually had a foretaste of during study-abroad trips to Germany and Hungary as a freshman and then to Spain with Greg Gardner and Rachel Hildebrand to learn about that country’s health care system.


“Mary Beth wants to make a difference in caring for competitive athletes, but she knows that to be successful the health care system needs to be overhauled,” said Alderman. “With the MBA program, she will study ways to generate meaningful changes, allowing her to take better care of her patients while making the system more accessible, affordable and satisfying for everyone coming to see her.” 

On research, boxing and the road to wellness

One of the things that surprised Sawyer about exercise and sports science was the scope for research, something that will prove beneficial to her as a graduate student. Currently, Sawyer is putting her research training to use in her job as manager at Engine Room Boxing in Tulsa, where she is part of a team assisting and studying people with Parkinson’s disease.


“Boxing is great physical therapy for people with Parkinson’s,” said Sawyer. “People accept that fact, but there’s not a ton of research on the subject.” Sawyer and her team conducted preliminary research, which has set the stage for more investigations.

Reflecting on her work at the boxing gym and what she has learned in the last couple of years of her undergraduate studies, Sawyer noted that “it’s helped me realize what I want to do with my life. They’ve gone hand in hand. I’m very passionate about what we do at the gym, and I want to keep working there even while I’m pursuing my MBA.”

Mary Beth Sawyer at the University of Tulsa football stadium
Sawyer has worked with TU’s football team since spring 2016 as an athletic training and nutrition aid, as well as assisting managers with the practice/lift laundry. Her contributions were recently recognized with a Wilson Holloway Ultimate Service Award.


Interested in helping bring about change in America’s health care system? Learn more about TU’s MBA in health care delivery sciences.