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Arnold School of Public Health


Sara Wilcox elected to join the National Academy of Kinesiology

September 20, 2015 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

With nearly 20 years in the fields of psychology and exercise science, Sara Wilcox has been elected to membership as an Active Fellow in the National Academy of Kinesiology. Election is a sign of being highly respected by her professional peers, and Wilcox was chosen based on her contributions to scholarship and leadership in the field of kinesiology.

As an Active Fellow, she will promote the study and educational applications of human movement and physical activity through continued exemplary scholarly productivity and knowledge dissemination. The newly inducted Fellows, including Wilcox, were recognized at the Academy’s annual meeting with a formal ceremony in Philadelphia on September 20. Wilcox’s induction, which is one of kinesiology’s highest honors, provides reinforcement to her commitment to kinesiology and public health. As evidence of her important role to the field, she was invited to present “Behavioral interventions to increase physical activity in older adults” as a part of the annual meeting’s “Active Aging: From Cells to Environment” program.

The director of the Arnold School of Public Health’s Prevention Research Center and professor in the Department of Exercise Science studies factors that influence physical activity by understanding personal, social and environmental elements in generally understudied populations (e.g., women, older adults, African Americans), such as her Faith, Activity, and Nutrition-Dissemination in Underserved Communities project that has been funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wilcox also conducts research to promote physical activity and healthy eating. For example, together withJihong Liu, she uses an R01 grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to support the project, Promoting Healthy Weight in Pregnancy and Postpartum among Overweight/Obese Women.

Some of her previous honors include the Arnold School’s Faculty Research Award, the 2010 USC Educational Foundation Faculty Research Award for Health Sciences, and Fellow in the American College of Sports Medicine. Wilcox earned a PhD in clinical psychology with a specialization in adult development and aging from Washington University and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University. Before joining the University of South Carolina, she was an assistant professor at Wake Forest University.

But her journey began long before her first faculty appointment and demonstrates that career paths can evolve in unexpected ways regardless of original plans and interests. “Growing up, I never liked physical education or group sports, but I learned over time to find things that I really do enjoy,” says Wilcox. “Now most days of the week I am active – usually I mix it up by running, taking part in group exercise classes and lifting weights.”

Wilcox’s professional interest in exercise science began during graduate school. “During one of our weekly aging brown-bag meetings, there was a speaker on the benefits of exercise for older adults,” she says. “I found myself fascinated by the talk and how much of an impact exercise could have on the quality of life for older adults.”

This initial spark led her to dig into the literature and learn that very little research had been done in the area of barriers and motivators of exercise in this age group. The realization ultimately set Wilcox on her career path, which resulted in a postdoctoral fellowship in cardiovascular disease epidemiology and prevention to obtain more specialty training in physical activity. “My work since then has been to understand barriers and motivators to physical activity in understudied populations and to develop and test behavioral interventions with these populations,” Wilcox says. “I love the fields of public health as well as exercise science and kinesiology, and I enjoy bringing together multiple disciplines to inform my work.”