Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Colleen McCabe

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Pioneer Spotlight
Colleen McCabe
October 14, 2016

Dr. Colleen McCabe, professor and chair of the Department of Health and Human Performance, began teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in 2000, serving as an adjunct instructor in the health and physical education program and School of Education programs and as an assistant volleyball coach.

McCabe earned a comprehensive Bachelor of Science in physical education, health and adapted physical education from UW-Oshkosh, Wisconsin; a Master of Arts in curriculum and instruction – curriculum integration, from St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota; and an Ed.D. in educational leadership – higher education from Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin.

Before entering higher education, she enjoyed 14 years of teaching secondary students health and physical education as well as coaching volleyball, basketball and track at Monroe High School in Monroe, Wisconsin.

In the past 16 years, McCabe has taught almost every course offered by the department, other than those dealing with the exercise sciences, from Introduction to Health and Human Performance to Technology in Health and Human Performance. She currently focuses on the health education components within the HHP course offerings, including Teaching Methods of Health Education, Seminar in Community and Environmental Health, Health Education, Emotional Health, and then rotates into the lecturer series in the HHP Fitness and Assessment Management course. She also supervises student teachers and health promotion interns during their field studies.

What are the challenges and rewards of balancing teaching with your responsibilities as chair of the Department of Health and Human Performance?

With the challenges comes the reward. I know, generally, where I want each group of students to end up at the end of each term, but each group or class of students is really a new chapter or lesson in what I need to learn as an instructor. At times, the administrative portion of my work as a department chair has to take my full attention, but I don’t think that I would be a very effective department chair if I did not still spend time in the classroom or in the off-campus settings of our student teachers and interns. Continued contact with the students and the external stakeholders of our discipline, K-12 schools and wellness settings, has helped me to be a driving force of our department’s transformation from a program into a stand-alone department. 

What are some unique ways that you try to inspire curiosity and a thirst for knowledge in your students?

Making the content and concepts matter to students is what continues to inspire me as an educator. Taking time and planning activities to get to know my students is the key to a successful semester. I personally really enjoy teaching through the use of multiple inquiry-based learning strategies, from reflective written prompts to technology-supported Webquests. I have always supported the flipped classroom and authentic learning concepts. When done right, student-centered, inquiry-based instruction starts with the teacher as an engaged learner/researcher. After that, creating learning experiences which engage a particular group of students in investigating real world issues and problems within our discipline follows a plan – but not a plan that is identical to last year’s journey.

What is your educational philosophy and how does it help guide you?

In a word, “literacy.” No matter the subject or the behavioral skill, student learning needs to be designed in a manner that information and engaging activities purposefully build the personal pedagogical skills needed for optimal use of content in an educational setting. For most, if not all, of my courses, I align my teaching to help my students develop both personal health literacy and an understanding of how to teach health literacy in their future students and clients. Instruction and developmental work on the progression of fundamental skills used to function in everyday situations and how to critically analyze health information and use it to enhance health is the focal point of instruction and assessment in my classrooms. To get my students to optimal health and for them to commit to optimal health as a goal for their future students is my ultimate goal.

How has the Dr. Patricia Collins Exercise Science Laboratory contributed to health and human performance students’ experiential learning?

The dual-purpose laboratory/lecture space has allowed the Health and Human Performance program the opportunity to revise its degree program curricula to include an in-depth experience with exercise science and training principles. Our students are now able to see and feel theory and concepts through experiential learning. Learning first-hand how the body, and specifically your body, responds to exercise allows for the internalization of physiological response.

What are a few of the most exciting programs, activities, and research your department will be conducting this fall?

This fall, we have several events for our students to engage in high-impact practices. Our teaching majors will be working with groups both on- and off-campus sponsoring Wellness Days as well as engaging with diverse populations to instill confidence in their abilities to meet the needs of the populations they will serve as future educators. We have also recently developed and designated a bio-chemistry lab within the Department of HHP to support continuing research in our discipline, most notably the research led by department faculty on biomarkers and concussions. 

As we look to the future, as soon as fall 2017, we hope to have completed a realignment of our curriculum into a department core with three major emphases: health and physical education, health promotion and exercise science. The addition of the exercise science emphasis has been a vision that we have been working toward over the past four years. At times, the extra time spent researching, writing and attending meetings has been challenging, but I know the end outcome will be very rewarding.

Interview conducted by Laurie A. Hamer, UW-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, email


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