Helping people get healthier is paying off for health fitness specialists who graduate from East Carolina University.
Wendy Mastin ’03 is the director of operations for fitness company Aquila. (Contributed photo)
Wendy Mastin is a 2003 graduate of the program and the director of operations at Aquila, which is a management and consultant company for corporate fitness and well-being programs. She likes to hire fellow Pirates.
“I know what I had to go through to complete the program; it’s very well rounded,” Mastin said. “You’re not just learning about exercise prescription. You’re also going to learn how to teach class, which is something that a lot of other programs don’t offer. They don’t have that extra leadership component.”
Aquila works with companies and government agencies to help their employees live healthier and happier lives. They have offices across the country including Miami and Los Angeles.
Mastin’s “collection of Pirates”, as she calls them, began when she was in charge of interns at Aquila. At that time, she said, the internship program wasn’t as strong as it could have been, so she went back to her advisors at ECU to get interns.
“That really started to get us traction in terms of having more people specifically from ECU,” said Mastin. “Once these relationships were established, we often received suggested candidates directly from them, or candidates would reach out to us directly.”
Over the past seven years, Mastin estimated they have employed or taken through internship programs 30 ECU graduates. She said they would often hire an intern after their internship, and in some cases, they would have liked to have hired an ECU intern, but there weren’t any openings available at the time.
“In comparison to other team members that we have we worked with from other universities, ECU grads are well equipped to join the health and fitness work force as soon as they graduate,” Mastin said.
Kristin Carbonara ‘10 (left) and Kindal Smith ‘12 are health fitness specialists who once took classes together at ECU and now work together with Aquila in Washington, D.C. (Contributed photo)
Kristin Carbonara ’10 and Kindal Smith ’12 are two ECU graduates who work for Aquila and are based in Washington, D.C. Carbonara is a program coordinator of incentives and personal training, and Smith is the assistant program manager and group exercise coordinator for one of the larger government agencies in the nation’s capitol. While at ECU they had some classes together, and both credit ECU for where they are now.
“I definitely remember being in awe of the teachers and how they motivated me to want to do well. They also were willing to help if need be and give extra guidance,” Carbonara said.
“I probably wouldn’t have the job I do now without an ECU connection. I would say it’s pretty important,” Smith said.
Smith’s comment is something that those in the College of Health and Human Performance have heard before. Rhonda Kenny is a teaching instructor and the health fitness specialist program director. She said the health fitness specialist program provides opportunities that set ECU students apart from their peers at other universities, such as incorporating a personal fitness training course and an exercise leadership course.
“When our students leave, they’ve already had an entire semester on how to be an effective personal trainer to really change people’s lives and how to be an effective group exercise leader,” said Kenny.
However, Kenny believes the program’s biggest strength is the faculty’s interaction with students.
“Even though we’re a large program, our faculty is dedicated to helping them improve as professionals,” Kenny said. “We are dedicated to getting to know our students. We are very active in promoting and attending professional conferences with them.”
Becoming a health fitness specialist is a growing industry. Kenny said during the economic downturn a few years back, they did not lose one internship position, even though companies were scaling back. She credited this to it being more cost effective for companies to have healthier employees.
“If you look at the trends over the next 13 years, our job outlook will increase 28 percent,” she said.
If those numbers increase as Kenny projected, Mastin could be collecting even more ECU alumni as the years go on.
“I enjoy and take pride in being able to employ and mentor fellow Pirates,” Mastin said. “From a professional standpoint, when I’m able to work with ECU grads, I know and trust that I am employing a highly qualified solid candidate. On a personal level, I view it as a way to give back to the university and the health and human performance program.”
–by Rich Klindworth