Master’s Student Takes Unique Path to Graduate Research
KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct 16, 2020) — Brent Uken took a different path in retirement than most retirees.
Uken, 55, a former senior partner with a global consulting firm, stepped away from a 30-year professional services career in 2018 to follow his passion in the health and fitness arena. He enrolled at Kennesaw State University in August 2019 to pursue a master’s degree in applied exercise and health science. In addition to his studies, Uken is a graduate research assistant and a teaching assistant.
“Since my days as a collegiate baseball player, I knew that I would have a career focused on fitness and athletic performance,” Uken said. “I’ve been an athlete my entire life and have always been interested in human physiology.”
Uken credits Trisha VanDusseldorp, assistant professor of exercise science in the Wellstar College of Health and Human Services, for playing a vital part in his decision to attend KSU. She gave him a tour of her lab, sparking his interest in her research and encouraging him to apply for the master’s degree program.
“It would be difficult to overstate Dr. VanDusseldorp’s impact on my research interests and career development,” he said. “I also credit the support of faculty in the Department of Exercise Science and Sport Management to help me pursue my master’s degree.”
Uken explained that the importance of graduate research lies with deep intellectual curiosity and the desire to identify benefits for the general population.
“I am an avid reader and have been interested in research my entire life,” he said. “During the past decade, I shifted my focus from economics and finance to health and wellness, but I have been interested in research as long as I can remember.”
Since he began his graduate studies in fall 2019, Uken and VanDusseldorp have worked closely on various research endeavors. One of his research ideas, focusing on Omega-3 fatty acids for disease prevention, led to a successfully funded grant proposal.
“I began to explore the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids about 18 months ago, experimenting with various dosages and testing my blood lipid levels,” he said. “Given the benefits I was experiencing, I began to discuss the concepts with the KSU ESSM faculty. I credit their collective questions, challenges and expertise for helping me refine the research questions I was developing.”
This project became the foundation for a grant proposal for the Interdisciplinary Innovation Initiative (I3), sponsored by the Kennesaw State University Research and Service Foundation. This internal grants program is spearheaded by KSU’s Office of Research to stimulate innovation, capacity-building and sustainability of interdisciplinary research and scholarly activity focused on the University’s four broad research themes.
Uken is part of the team that was awarded funding over the next two years to conduct a complete analysis of the independent impacts of two particular Omega-3 fatty acids that have been identified in helping prevent cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, as well as have the potential to reduce inflammation induced by diseases and exercise.
The team—including VanDusseldorp, Gerald Mangine, and Brian Klisczewicz in exercise science, as well as Carol Chrestensen in chemistry—will assess the impacts on participants’ health and wellness, including metabolic and cardiovascular health, along with their exercise reactions.
Uken’s plans may include pursuing a doctoral degree, but will undoubtedly include teaching and conducting additional research in a field that he describes as “near and dear” to him.
– Landon Mion
Photos by David Caselli
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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.