University of Texas at Brownsville Graduates Exercise Science


By Daniel Perry

This past summer mornings periodically started before sunrise for Jose Leal, a University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in health and human performance. Leal, 22, of Brownsville accommodated his test subjects as early as 6 a.m. for the graduate thesis he will defend this fall on walking with and without blood flow restriction and the effects on energy expenditure and muscle functioning. “Blood flow restriction is a novel method,” said Leal. “It is not researched much in the United States.”

Research is a key component of the learning experience in the university’s Department of Health and Human Performance in the College of Education.

“It is crucial for students to have something extra other than minimum course work to be able to compete with other students,” said Dr. Murat Karabulut, an Assistant Professor in the  Department of Health and Human Performance. “Involvement in research also provides some hands-on experience, which is extremely important, because nobody really learns and/or understands anything until they perform the task.”

Any data that can be gathered to convince people to move around can play a role reducing the Rio Grande Valley and nation’s high diabetes and obesity rates and improving educational and socioeconomic levels.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

·         The national obesity rate is 35 percent; Texas has a 31 percent obesity rate.

·         About 78 million Americans are considered obese.

·         More than 18 million Americans have diabetes with more than 7 million people being undiagnosed.

·         Women who had gestational diabetes have up to a 60 percent chance of developing diabetes within 20 years.

“It will take ongoing research in many related fields such as exercise science, behavioral science, public health and more to be able to understand and develop the many needs and approaches that will be most effective in our people,” said Dr. Rose Gowen, a Brownsville City Commissioner and Doctor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Su Clinica Familiar in Brownsville. “What messages work, what exercise works best in which age groups and on a family level, what changes in the environment should city governments be working towards that will enable people to be active regularly? All are questions that are best answered by research followed up with research so that we are using the best practices and making best use of our resources.”


Undergraduate experiences

Undergraduate students in the program have many opportunities to work alongside graduate students on exercise science research.

Roshni Rama, 22, a senior health and human performance – exercise science major from South Padre Island, assisted Leal with collecting heart rate and blood pressure data. She and Leal used oxygen and carbon dioxide analyzers, KAATSU-Master cuffs and other equipment for the work.

“It’s a good learning experience and will be very helpful and it will be related to the field I’m getting into,” said Rama.

After graduation in spring 2013 Rama plans to pursue occupational therapy because wants to help people use exercise to regain daily activities like eating and dressing themselves.

Exercise science students can do their own research toward the end of their undergraduate careers.

Lesley Flores, 22, of Brownsville and Benjamin Alaniz, 24, of Harlingen are health and human performance – exercise science majors. They are working together on a study on the effects of vibration training on arterial elasticity, particularly in the upper body.

Flores wants to use her exercise science degree to eventually go into physical therapy.

“It’s a good experience in getting my feet wet,” she said. “I’m testing my knowledge here. I think I would have been a better example for other students if I started the research early.”

Alaniz played four sports while a student at Harlingen South High School and baseball at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin before transferring to the Brownsville university.

“What I am learning is totally different with what I thought it would be,” said Alaniz. “I wish I knew a lot of this in high school. The instruction is a lot more hands-on and more emphasis is placed on the one-to-one level.”


Graduates move on

The department has had success with graduates moving into doctoral programs. In recent years students have been accepted to the Texas Woman’s University Institute of Health Sciences – Houston Center and the University of Oklahoma.

Vanessa Martinez of Brownsville received her master’s degree in health and human performance in December 2011 and served as a department lecturer. She started work on a Doctor of Philosophy in Education with an emphasis in Exercise Science and as a graduate assistant in August at the University of Idaho.

“Once I started working on my thesis research and teaching for the department, I found something I was truly passionate about and knew that I wanted to be a professor,” said Martinez. “It was the life for me. Interestingly, I have an equal love for both the teaching and research so I knew that working on a doctoral degree was the right thing for me.”


Daniel Perry is an informational writer at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. For more information log on to

Want to be a volunteer in upcoming research projects? Want to find out about degree opportunities? Learn more by contacting the Department of Health and Human Performance at 956-882-8290 or