Feature News

Cardinal Fit exercise science initiative creates convenient ways to keep North Central College moving

Nov 18, 2019

Student-run program benefits faculty, staff and students for free and provides valuable professional training

We all know exercise is good for us, and that we could always be doing more.

That’s probably why 14 percent of all Americans, or about 46 million people, have a gym membership.* There are barriers to exercise, however, and a lot of them are self-imposed. That’s why 80 percent of all gym memberships go unused.**

A new program at North Central College aims to knock down some of those barriers while establishing a clearer path to career success for kinesiology students.

Cardinal Fit is the name of the program offered by North Central’s department of exercise science. Students provide fitness guidance and their clients get to enjoy those services right on campus. For the student “coaches,” it’s great professional preparation.

The program is being coordinated by Assistant Professor of Exercise Science and Exercise Science Clinical Coordinator Marilyn Skarbek. She explained that while they are under supervision by credentialed professionals at all times, students are coordinating all Cardinal Fit activities. The experience is vital because it goes beyond studying the body in a virtual sense to applying that study to real people, something they’ll need to do to be successful.

“Working in the field of exercise science requires technical skill as well as the ability to develop and maintain strong interpersonal relationships,” Skarbek said. “Cardinal Fit students will have plenty of opportunities to develop and practice marketable skills, and we also hope they will share their passion for exercise with the surrounding community.

“We are confident that participation in the Cardinal Fit program will position students well for internship experiences, graduate studies and post-graduate employment.”

Cardinal Fit is not just about the student coaches—it’s about promoting healthier living on campus. So North Central students, faculty and staff can all enroll in Cardinal Fit for free, and plans are in place to offer the program to the surrounding Naperville community for a small fee.

“The objective of the Cardinal Fit program is twofold,” Skarbek said. “One, to provide the opportunity for exercise science students to practice their skills with a diverse population, and two, to recognize the integral role of physical activity in one’s health and provide opportunities for individuals to engage in physical activity as part of their daily life.”


"Cardinal Fit students will have plenty of opportunities to develop and practice marketable skills, and we also hope they will share their passion for exercise with the surrounding community."

Marilyn Skarbek

Exercise science the professional way

Complimentary access to the gym and other fitness resources at the Residence Hall/Recreation Center is available any time to students, faculty and staff. Cardinal Fit coaches motivate clients to use those resources by providing personalized attention for those who don’t have a workout routine figured out just yet.

The program allows people to try it out and get recommendations before deciding on something long-term. Opportunities range from one-hour sessions to eight-week regimens.

“Cardinal Fit offers exercise orientations, fitness evaluations and individualized programs,” said Skarbek. “There are also various events such as cardiodance and the Fitness Playground, and in the future we hope to include small group training sessions.”

The Fitness Playground event featured activities focused on fun and nostalgia as an excuse to exercise. They included a nine-square game, Spikeball game, hula hooping, life-sized games of Hungry Hungry Hippos, water balloon tossing on balance balls, and a bungee-cord shuttle run on a bouncy castle.

“The idea for the fitness playground came from the thought that we, in general, need to be more creative about helping individuals engage in physical activity,” said Skarbek. “Individuals benefit from physical activity in all forms so we make it fun and easy!”

Bringing exercise science into a team environment

The Cardinal Fit program is a collective effort between multiple departments. In addition to exercise science students coaching clients, marketing and public relations students are in charge of promoting the initiative, thanks to partnerships with Clinical Coordinator for Sport Management Larry Jinkins and Assistant Professor of Communication Michael Blight. Cardinal Fit also benefits from the support of the College’s human resources, academic affairs, student affairs, RecSports and risk management offices as well as the Dyson Wellness Center.

“We, meaning exercise specialists, have our area of expertise but other professors, staff and students across campus have different skill sets that can help with our program in a more effective way than we could alone,” said Skarbek. “These collaborations are a more effective and engaging way for students to learn. Also, it is a higher-stakes experience for students that goes well beyond just a grade in a class. Knowing that someone else is relying on you to deliver makes the experience more meaningful.”

Cardinal Fit is an example of programming that allows North Central students to make the most of their academic experience, and Skarbek sees that as a distinguishing feature.

“The fact that we can offer a program such as this speaks to our commitment to our students’ learning and their overall experience here at the College.”

For more information on Cardinal Fit, contact Marilyn Skarbek at mskarbek@noctrl.edu or (630) 637-5495.

*According to IBISWorld market research.

**According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA).