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Exercise Science

The Exercise Science program provides health and fitness professionals with a strong understanding of the scientific concepts hands on application that is required in a variety of health and fitness careers. The Exercise Science graduate will have the ability to raise awareness about health and physical activity, change behavior, and create environments that support good health practices, including, but not limited to exercise and physical activity. The Exercise Science professional assists people to develop self-responsibility for their own health and wellness, and implement health assessments and wellness programs that promote a healthy lifestyle. Exercise Science professionals work and study in commercial, clinical, and workplace settings to increase health, fitness, and quality of life for the general population. They are also able to apply their knowledge of acute and chronic exercise physiology to promote better health, reduce chronic disease, or to enhance the performance of athletes.

Student Spotlight

  • Eddie Stenger - Class of 2012

    Eddie Stenger

    Having always had a strong interest in health & fitness the decision to apply for and join the Exercise Science Major at SDSU was an easy one for me. With the strong Anatomy and Exercise Physiology background SDSU provided me with I was able to obtain my Master’s Degree in Clinical Exercise Physiology from the University of Wisconsin- La Crosse after finishing the undergraduate Exercise Science program. I now work as a Cardiac Rehab Therapist and absolutely love helping individuals recover from their cardiovascular and pulmonary injuries. The Exercise Science Major at SDSU opens up many career opportunities and the staff and faculty do a wonderful job at guiding their students to reach their personal, academic, and career goals.

  • Willie Jones - Class of 2007

    Willie Jones

    Willie is an Associate Football Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Illinois. He also spent 7 years at the University of Nebraska as an Assistant Football Strength and Conditioning Coach. “I am fortunate to be in the position I am today because of the excellent curriculum through the Exercise Science Program at South Dakota State University. South Dakota State’s Exercise Science Program has given me the tools in my professional career to strive past all my goals. For that I am thankful.

  • Taylor Specht - Class of 2015

    Taylor Specht

    Taylor Specht is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Orthotics and Prosthetics from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. “My exercise science degree from SDSU provided me with a great foundation for continuing my education. So much of my ability to succeed in graduate school is because of the education I received at SDSU from highly qualified faculty. Anatomy, physiology and exercise physiology are all used heavily in my field especially in the amputee population. Helping people improve their gait and ultimately their lives is a rewarding career and I am thankful SDSU set me up to succeed. Many of my patients, classmates and coworkers have never met someone from South Dakota but I make sure to share my Jackrabbit pride every opportunity I am given!”

  • Kristen Roles – Class of 2013

    Kristen Roles

    Kristen is currently a clinical research coordinator at Washington University Program in Physical Therapy in St. Louis, MO. “As a young athlete I went to a physical therapist who helped me recover from a shoulder injury. From that point on I knew I wanted to be in the health profession and improve the lives of others. I entered college with the hopes of being an Exercise Science major since I had a passion for understanding the human body and how we move. I cannot give enough praise to the faculty and staff within the Exercise Science Department for their preparation and guidance which helped me to be an immediate asset in my new position. I currently work on a NIH funded grant comparing two different physical therapy treatments for people with chronic low back pain. My primary responsibilities include overseeing day to day operations of other staff/students, collection of motion capture, data analysis, and a variety of other tasks. Research is great because no two days are ever the same!“

  • Tara Shafrath - Class of 2012

    Tara Shafrath

    After graduating with my degree in Exercise Science I decided to further my education with the Health and Nutritional Sciences Department at SDSU to purse my master’s in Nutrition, Exercise and Food Science with an emphasis in Exercise Science. I selected Exercise Science because of the variety of jobs this career path offers and the vibrancy of the material you learn. It’s a fascinating line of study and applies to everyone! In 2014 I accepted a position with SDSU Extension as a Health and Physical Activity Field Specialist where I promote, create, and coordinate public health related programing and research efforts across the state. To find out more about my position and the work check out or follow this link:

  • Jake Steffen - Class of 2012

    Jake Steffen

    Jake graduated from South Dakota State University in the Spring of 2012. “I always have had a passion to help and impact people through relationships. And what better way to do that than in an environment that I love! Health and wellness!” Jake spent 2 years at the University of Sioux Falls as a Graduate Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach while obtaining his Master’s in Business Administration with a focus on Healthcare Management. At the completion of his master’s, he joined Sanford Health in the role of District Manager with Profile by Sanford. He is directly responsible for the success of all locations located in the Midwest region and helps direct the focus of Nutrition, Activity and Lifestyle within the Profile program. Profile is a weight management program created by doctors using coaching, meal replacements, and technology to help members reach their weight loss goals. He works to maintain healthy work environments while ultimately helping all locations reflect the mission of Profile, to change lives one relationship at a time.

  • Josiah Fitzsimmons - Class of 2012

    Josiah Fitzsimmons

    I really cannot say enough about my experience in the SDSU Exercise Science program. All of my teachers were top notch professors who really knew their subject areas and did great jobs at delivering the appropriate content. There are a lot of classes in college that seem like they do not apply to real life but I did not feel that way in the Exercise Science program at SDSU. It was a great combination of hands on and classroom learning that really set me up well as I went on to get my Masters at SDSU in Nutrition, Exercise and Food Sciences as well as my recently completed Doctorate in Chiropractic. I would highly recommend SDSU’s Exercise Science program to anyone who wants to be in the health field and wants a challenging, yet fun environment to grow in.

  • Renee Burnham - Class of 2014

    Renee Burnham

    Renee is currently in her 3rd year of graduate school at the University of South Dakota pursuing a Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree. The Exercise Science program at SDSU really prepared me for physical therapy with the heavy sciences and exercise physiology classes. I feel I have a better understanding of muscle biomechanics, anatomy and physiology of the human body, and exercise prescription thanks to this program. I interacted with so many people and patients while in the program and had so much hands-on experience that it felt like second nature to communicate with my PT patients. The hands-on experience and lab time you gain while at SDSU helped me immensely with my PT skills and abilities. The faculty are truly vested in your education and careers and give you so many opportunities to become successful!

  • Lacey Beckett - Class of 2014

    Lacey Beckett

    Lacey Beckett owns her own small business, Element Cheer & Dance, an athletic facility in Miller, SD that offers programs such as competitive and recreational cheer and dance, tumble, adult and child group fitness classes, and private personal training sessions. “I was able to jump right into my dream career thanks to the knowledge and experience I received from the Exercise Science program here at SDSU. The classes offered at SDSU were very hands on and personal. They gave me the tools I needed to be successful with the services that Element provides. The small class size in the program allowed personal relationships with both the faculty and other Exercise Science students, creating a lifelong network as well as friendships.”

  • Seth Daughters - Class of 2013

    Seth Daughters

    Seth is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at D1 Sports Training in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “I grew up with a love for sports and had a great high school summer acceleration program that sparked my initial interest in training to improve my sport performance. Once in college, and at the hands of a couple of injuries, I continued to develop an interests in exercise and movement. My interest took a shift from enjoying the process of rehabbing a knee or training for a sport to asking questions like: “Why do we move in certain ways?” or “What happens to the body physiologically that leads to performance benefits or health benefits.” and “How can I help someone the same way I’ve been helped?” I found the Exercise Science program at SDSU and quickly absorbed everything I was learning with excitement. I found that when you find what you are passionate about the work involved isn’t really work but rather something you strive to excel at. The Exercise Science program helped me develop the skills and knowledge that it takes to be successful in the career I have chosen. Along with invaluable knowledge and the skills needed to succeed, the Professors helped establish a desire to continue learning long after I graduated from the program. The Exercise Science program will prepare you for the science, the practical application, and the ability to continue building the skills you have learned as an Exercise Professional.”

  • Kelsie Denhoed - Class of 2015

    Kelsie Denhoed

    Kelsie is a Conditions Management Health Coach with Health Management Partners in Sioux Falls, SD. “My role with Health Management Partners involves one-on-one telephonic or web-based health coaching. Most of my members have conditions such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, pre-diabetes, low risk anxiety/depression; most of which can be improved with diet and exercise changes. Our company focuses on self-managed wellness goals, and we as health coaches encourage members to set a goal for themselves and serve as an accountability partner. My job is very rewarding in the sense that when my members see improvements or make strides towards their goals they realize that their struggles were internal, and sometimes all it takes was an extra push from an outside source. The Exercise Science staff was completely committed to me and my success, and they were genuinely interested in my personal goals and interests. This is definitely a “hands-on” program, and really encourages comfortable communication with clients, which is important in the health field.

  • Sara Quail - Class of 2010

    Sara Quail

    Sarah is the Cancer Programs Coordinator for the South Dakota Department of Health. “When I started the Exercise Science program at SDSU I had didn’t know exactly what career I aspired to after graduation, I just knew that promoting a healthy lifestyle was a passion of mine. My senior year internship led to a job offer after graduation, and eventually brought me to where I am now. I feel very lucky that my degree from SDSU steered me toward a career that I love; feeling like I'm making a difference and doing important work to reduce the burden of cancer in South Dakota.”

  • Hilary Overby - Class of 2013

    Hilary Overby

    After graduating with her BS degree in Exercise Science, Hilary went on to earn a Master’s in Nutrition, Exercise, Food Sciences with a specialization in Exercise and a certificate in Transdisciplinary Childhood Obesity Prevention from South Dakota State University. Hilary currently works at Volunteers of America, Dakotas as the Southeast Region Tobacco Prevention Coordinator on contract with the South Dakota Department of Health Tobacco Control Program. “I chose Exercise Science because I wanted to work with communities and health promotion efforts. Exercise Science offers so many opportunities for where you can go in life. The Exercise Science program was great at providing opportunities to discover real-life experiences and see what options are out there for you.”

  • Cory Jacobsen - Class of 2016

    Cory Jacobsen

    Cory is attending the University of Sioux Falls (USF) where he is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Business Administration and serves as a Strength and Conditioning Graduate Assistant. Cory works with Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Women’s Tennis, Softball, Pole Vault and Football teams at USF. “After finishing my Exercise Science degree, while also playing basketball for the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State University (SDSU), I wanted to stay involved with sports and athletics. I am honored to now be serving as an assistant strength coach for the USF Cougars. During my time with the Exercise Science Program at SDSU, I was grateful to build relationships and learn from peers and faculty. I am now able to apply my knowledge and experiences with numerous athletes daily at USF.”

  • Angela Hill - Class of 2008

    Angela Hill

    After completing my BS in Health Promotion from South Dakota State in 2008, I attended graduate school at University of Nebraska Medical Center for my Masters in Physician Assistant Studies. I am a certified physician assistant and work in orthopedic surgery. I work in the hospital, clinic, and surgical settings. The foundation that the Health Promotion program and education provided for my application to graduate school, and now my career, was a great building block for my desire to work in a health care profession.



Graduate Placement

96% of Exercise Science students are employed or enrolled in graduate school within one year of earning their diploma. Exercise Science is currently the degree with the highest admission rate into physical therapy graduate programs. (PTCAS Application Data Report 2015–2016). In addition to Pre-PT, Pre-OT, Pre-Med, Pre-PA, and Pre-Chiropractic students earn BS degrees in Exercise Science for the strong science core and hands on experience helping people improve their health.


Student Satisfaction

100% of the 2015 Exercise Science graduates students were satisfied with the quality of their education. Students note the wealth of hands on experiences, small class sizes, developing professional relationships with faculty and peers, and the opportunity to take the ACSM EP-C exam prior to graduation as strong points of the program.



The Exercise Science program at South Dakota State University is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs upon recommendation of the Committee on Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences (CoAES). CAAHEP is the largest accrediting agency in the health science field and is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Currently, South Dakota State University has the only CAAHEP accredited Exercise Science program in the State of South Dakota.

Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs
25400 US Highway 19 N., Suite 158
Clearwater, FL 33763


National Certification Exam

All Exercise Science students have the opportunity to sit for the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Certified Exercise Physiologist national certification exam. South Dakota State University Students have an average pass rate of 95%, which is far above the national pass rate average of 58%, showcasing the quality of the Exercise Science program.


Hands on Experience

Exercise Science students have the opportunity to gain hands on experience by completing an on campus internship and an off campus field-experience. Students have worked selected sites both domestically and internationally in the fields of strength and conditioning, cardiac rehabilitation, worksite wellness, fitness management, community physical activity promotion, and biomechanics.


Student Retention

The majority of students who are accepted into the exercise science program graduate with a BS degree in Exercise Science. For example, 100% of the students admitted to the 2015 graduating class earned their BS degree with their peers.

Program Goals

The goal of the Exercise Science program is to provide quality academic instruction and learning experiences:

  • To prepare students to procure entry-level employment in the health/fitness/wellness field, or continue formal education in schools offering advanced degrees in health related graduate programs
  • To prepare students to obtain the ACSM Health Fitness Specialist certification
  • To produce qualified employees to the health and fitness profession
  • To provide academic satisfaction to student graduates
  • To provide an academic curriculum that engages students with hands on experiences and individual support to foster student retention

Academic Program Outcomes

  • Implement personal fitness assessments
  • Prescribe exercise and healthy lifestyle habits
  • Create comprehensive wellness programs for diverse population needs
  • Demonstrate effective communication/interpersonal skills

The specific knowledge, skill, and ability (KSA) learning outcomes within the Exercise Science curriculum can be found KSA curriculum map.

Career Opportunities

An Exercise Science major may seek employment in a number of areas. Jobs exist in the private and public sectors. Some examples may include:

  • Hospitals – cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation, exercise specialists, clinical exercise specialists, exercise stress testing technologist, research technologists, disease management, diabetes education, and wellness/health coaching
  • Corporate – corporate fitness management, personal training, strength and conditioning, pharmaceutical sales, health and fitness technology development, medical device sales
  • Community – worksite wellness, wellness programming, health education, fitness club management, personal training, health programming, state and local health department specialist
  • University – strength and conditioning, research technologist, wellness programming, health education.
  • Military – research technologist, exercise physiologist, exercise testing technologists, wellness center manager

The Exercise Science major is also an excellent preparatory major for students who plan to go on to pursue advanced degrees. Common graduate areas of study include:

  • Physical Therapy
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Chiropractic School
  • Cardiac Rehabilitation
  • Physician’s Assistant
  • Athletic Training
  • Medical School
  • Public Health
  • Strength and Conditioning

Recent Employers

  • Sanford Health (Sanford Health Plan, Profile by Sanford, fit, Sanford Power, Sanford Wellness Center)
  • Avera Health (Corporate Health, Avera Sports Institute, Avera McKennan Fitness Center)
  • Orthopedic Institute D1 Sports Training
  • Health Management Partners of South Dakota
  • FitSTEPS for Life®

Check out course descriptions and program requirements for the Exercise Science major in the Online Catalog.

Program Application

For information on how to apply to the exercise science program, please reference the Exercise Science student policy and procedural manual.