UAH welcomes Dr. Shannon Mathis, Department of Kinesiology, College of Education


Dr. Shannon Mathis, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology

Michael Mercier | UAH

Strength training to become a professional mountain bike racer led to a new career in exercise science for mathematician, Shannon Mathis.

"I read books and articles on various exercise physiology topics to learn how to train to become an elite athlete. I started taking undergraduate courses in physiology, and eventually changed careers to pursue a doctorate degree in exercise physiology," said Dr. Shannon Mathis, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology, at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) College of Education.

A native of Collins, MS, Mathis attended a rural high school that didn't offer advanced placement courses. But she held memberships in the Mathematics Honors Club, and Mu Alpha Theta National High School and Junior College Mathematics Club.

She performed a rare feat by combining the fields of computer science, mathematics and exercise science to form a career in kinesiology. "In my undergraduate program, I learned programming languages such as C/C++. This is the foundation I needed to learn to write code in the statistical analysis software packages Stata, SAS, and SPSS. Having a deep understanding of mathematics allows me to apply the correct statistical tests when analyzing data to prove or disprove a hypothesis, and interpret the results. It is important to me to have the ability to pursue research projects that will ultimately be beneficial to people."

Before coming to UAH, Mathis was a lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Belmont University (Nashville, TN). She also started the Belmont R Users Group to encourage undergraduate students to learn how to use and write code in R as an alternative data analysis tool.

Mathis became fascinated with establishing a career at UAH several years ago. That's when she "prematurely" applied for an interdisciplinary position before earning her doctorate degree. "I have been interested in UAH throughout my mathematics career because of the university's strength in science, technology, and math. When I read that UAH had plans to begin a kinesiology program, I applied immediately," Mathis said. "I am drawn to UAH because of its strength as a research institution. Having support from the university and from the College of Education is key to my pursuit of a research agenda and grant writing."

UAH's Kinesiology Department awards a Bachelor of Science degree with a specialization in either exercise science or physical education. Mathis said the exercise science concentration prepares students for further graduate studies in exercise physiology, masters in public health, kinesmetrics, or human performance.

"Students are also prepared for entry into pre-health professional programs such as physical therapy, physical therapy assistant, or physician assistant. A student with a bachelor's degree is prepared to work in fitness and instruction, corporate wellness, human performance, or research. Each of our students will complete a research project in the health sciences that will be submitted for publication or presentation prior to graduation. Also, our program outcomes align with the standards of the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association."

The physical education concentration prepares students to obtain the licensure required to teach physical education in Alabama. Students will be required to meet all Alabama Quality Teaching Standards and specific physical education standards established by the Alabama State Department of Education. These standards are aligned with the Society of Health and Physical Educators teacher education standards and the Alabama Course of Study for Physical Education.

Mathis currently teaches courses in exercise testing and prescription. "The purpose of the series is to prepare the student for a career in personal training, as a health fitness specialist in corporate wellness, or to work as a clinical exercise physiologist in cardiac rehabilitation. These courses will prepare students to pass certification exams from the American College of Sports Medicine."

Next year, Mathis said, the department's first senior class (exercise science students) will take courses in research methods. "The goal is to spend the fall semester learning ethics, developing a research question and hypothesis, and formulating the methodology for a research project," she explained. "Students will obtain approval from the UAH Institutional Review Board. During the spring semester, students will continue to develop their research projects, analyze data, and write manuscripts for presentation or publication. I am excited to provide our students with an opportunity to publish prior to graduation."

Mathis has authored and published numerous articles and abstracts on movement and degenerative conditions, and bone density studies. "Physical activity is considered a method to improve bone health to prevent osteoporosis," she said. "However, male cyclists spend hours exercising weekly and still have low bone density. For my dissertation, I studied methods to prevent bone loss over a competitive racing season and a possible link between the stress hormone, cortisol, and bone density.

"While working at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), I had the opportunity to co-author papers on a wide variety of health-related topics," Mathis noted. "We studied outcomes of resident education programs, the financial burden of re-excising a tumor, surgical complications and follow-up in the homeless population, cognitive predictors of pain and disability after surgery, and a cognitive behavioral based physical therapy intervention in patients after having lumbar spine surgery for a degenerative condition. My future research plan is to apply my work in bone health to geriatric populations."

Additionally, Mathis and her colleagues at VUMC studied a cognitive behavioral therapy intervention provided alongside an exercise program. The plan was developed because many adults stop exercising because of pain. "Many adults suffer from lower back pain from a degenerative condition of the spine, pain from arthritis, or pain from conditions such as fibromyalgia," Mathis said. "Once serious pain sets in, movement is limited and difficult. The patient often develops a fear of movement (kinesiophobia) or a fear of re-injury. Losing one's ability to easily perform activities of daily living often leads to depression. The risk factor targeted approach was designed to teach the patient behavior self-management and relaxation techniques. The program's successful outcomes were decreased sensations of pain and decreased overall disability."

Mathis has given presentations to the College of Sports Medicine, Vanderbilt Center for Bone Biology and the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science and a Masters of Science degree in Mathematics from Mississippi College (Clinton, MS). She earned a second Masters of Science degree in Mathematics from The University of Tennessee (Knoxville, TN), and a PhD in Health and Human Performance Specialization in Exercise Science from Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro, TN).



UAH College of Education