Topic: College of Applied Sciences and Technology

August 21, 2015

Leonard Kaminsky

Leonard Kaminsky, director of the Fisher Institute for Wellness and Gerontology, won Ball State's Outstanding Faculty Award during the Fall Opening Convocation.

With an assured, understated comfort and easy smile, Lenny Kaminsky moves smoothly around the lab.

He's cajoled graduate student Alexis Sutter into demonstrating the treadmill in the Clinical Exercise Physiology Lab. He helps her assemble a breathing apparatus, then places a stethoscope's chestpiece next to a blood pressure cuff on her arm.

He smiles and jokes, "They don’t let me touch this stuff. If they knew I was in here touching the equipment …"

The simple demonstration combines three of his great loves: the students he works with and mentors, the varied research that keeps him excited about his field and using that research to improve people’s health.

The integration of those areas makes it easy to understand why he received Ball State University's Outstanding Faculty Award at Friday's Fall Opening Convocation. The award honors excellence in teaching, research or creative endeavors, and service by a faculty member who has worked at the university for more than five years.

Immediately after getting the award, Kaminsky said, "I'm certainly very honored and humbled by this. I just can't believe it."

An unexpected shift

After the lab demonstration, the John and Janice Fisher Distinguished Professor of Wellness settles in to chat. He looks people directly in the eyes, and his frequent use of his hands while talking shows his passion for a field that, while not his first career choice, has proven to be his best.

About Lenny Kaminsky

Years at Ball State: 27

Career: Northeastern Illinois University, 1984 - 1988; Ball State, 1988 - present

Education: bachelor’s, State University of New York, Binghamton, 1977; master’s, Southern Methodist University, 1981; doctorate, Southern Illinois University; Carbondale, 1984

With a bachelor's in accounting, he was an auditor for General Motors Co. in Dallas. While there, the former football and lacrosse athlete ("I was good at running into things and over things") participated in recreational sports at Southern Methodist University.

As his first year at GM was ending, he was told he'd either need to transfer to accounting in Detroit or to sales. Neither was for him.

"I was always interested in exercise, training and coaching," Kaminsky said. He took an exercise physiology class from Peter Gifford, who founded SMU’s wellness department. "The bells and whistles went off." Kaminsky loved the idea of using exercise to help others and thought, "Wow, this is so interesting and cool."

He studies how the body's physiology reacts to physical activity. Most chronic diseases—including heart disease, diabetes and obesity—are developed in large part to inactivity.

"It was so fascinating to look at how the body's cells respond to stress. You stress the body with exercise, and it will react and grow stronger."

Disease prevention and exercise

His research on the role exercise plays in preventing chronic diseases has made him an internationally recognized authority, according to the award nomination letter from Mitch Whaley, dean of the College of Applied Sciences and Technology.

"We’ve had so many great students, and I’m still in touch with many of them. To see grad students develop their skill sets, confidence and be ready to go out into the world is rewarding."

Lenny Kaminsky,
  recipient of 2015 Outstanding Faculty Award

Kaminsky co-chairs the first National Registry for Cardiorespiratory Fitness, which will provide a representative sample of the nation's population and can be used to accurately interpret cardiorespiratory fitness. The goal is to promote higher levels of physical fitness to improve health.

Kaminsky has the same goal with his frequent contributions to the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association, including work on best practices.

"Dr. Kaminsky is a prolific scholar...," Tom Weidner, chair of the School of Kinesiology, wrote in supporting Kaminsky’s award nomination. "Scores of clients, patrons, and patients also directly benefit from his influence on their health and fitness."

Kaminsky's work follows a university tradition, as Ball State was an early leader in exercise physiology. Leroy "Bud" Getchell founded the clinical program here, and what he created became a standard for other schools.

Hobbies and fitness

To Kaminsky, research is directly tied to service. In the Adult Fitness Lab, he meets people where they are, noting there’s no need to become a daily jogger in a week. He finds out what activities people enjoy and helps them create a fitness plan.

When assisting those in their 20s and 30s, for example, he asks what they like to do—and challenges them to consider what they might want to do in retirement. He adjusts plans to the person’s health and abilities.

The goal, he said, is to have a fitness level that lets people easily do activities they enjoy instead of causing them pain. "I get to work with nice people who need support and help them create a step-by-step program."

Questions for students to resolve

He gets very high teaching evaluation scores, yet "his strength lies in his mentoring of numerous students outside the classroom," according to Whaley's nomination.

Convocation Award Recipients

Outstanding Faculty Award
Leonard Kaminsky, School of Kinesiology

Outstanding Creative Endeavor Award
Drew Vidal and Michael Elliott, Theatre and Dance

Outstanding Junior Faculty Award
Lisa Rubenstein, Educational Psychology

Outstanding Research Award
Susan McDowell, Biology

Outstanding Teaching Award
Kristen McCauliff, Communication Studies

Excellence in Teaching Award
Megan McNames, Journalism
Liz Whiteacre, English

Lawhead Award for Core Curriculum
David Perkins, Psychological Science

Outstanding Administrator Award
William Jenkins, Theatre and Dance

Outstanding Diversity Advocate Award
Olon Dotson, Architecture

Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award
Clare Chatot, Biology

Outstanding Faculty Service Award
David McIntosh, Special Education

Rawlings Award for Distance Education
Serena Salloum, Educational Leadership

Kaminsky's developed and managed a program that provides graduate students with rigorous clinical internships through IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital. In addition to letting students practice what they learn in class, their patients with chronic diseases can give them mysteries to solve.

"What might be going wrong? There’s a little detective work," he said. "What are the potential therapies? With chronic diseases, if people change their lifestyle—get good exercise and diet—what's that result in?"

The future

As the new director of the Fisher Institute for Wellness and Gerontology, Kaminsky is taking on more administrative duties, but his research continues with the graduate clinical exercise physiology program, part of the Human Performance Lab. He thinks it's a good fit at this stage in his more than 30-year career on campuses—just as his work in exercise physiology began with a good fit.

He's looking forward to exploring the new opportunities to work on health and well-being with a broader group from the larger community.

Through his time at Ball State, he's proudest of his work with students.

"We've had so many great students, and I'm still in touch with many of them. To see grad students develop their skill sets, confidence and be ready to go out into the world is rewarding."