The Department of Exercise Science has roots at Syracuse University dating back to 1919. What began as a physical education program—with separate tracks for women and men—has grown into a STEM-focused program characterized by impactful scholarship in kinesiology and biomedicine. Today, the Department of Exercise Science is a vibrant, interdisciplinary research community shaping the future of human health and athletic performance.

Use the numbered orange dots to connect events on the timeline with corresponding photos. The photos and historical data are courtesy of University Archives, Syracuse University Libraries, and individual faculty and staff contributors. Photo of the 2018 Mount Everest expedition is courtesy of Andrew Burton.


The Gymnasium and YMCA Building is built in 1891 to house the men’s and women’s athletic departments and the Students’ Christian Association. With separate facilities for men and women, the basement held locker rooms, baths, and a swimming pool. The first floor contained the gymnasium floor, while the second floor had a “running gallery.”


Syracuse University builds a new gymnasium, which officially opens in December 1908 with the Junior Prom. Named in 1909 for former Board of Trustees President John D. Archbold, the new Archbold Gymnasium contained a swimming pool, rowing tank, baseball cage, and an indoor track, with bowling alleys installed in 1911.


The men move to Archbold Gymnasium. Meanwhile, the women remain at the now called “Old Gym,” or alternatively, the “Women’s Gym.” However, the Old Gym is recognized as inadequate for women students. The Women’s League, Women’s Athletic Association, alumnae clubs, and other women’s organizations fundraise for a new building from 1903 to 1941 with cookie and chocolate sales, dances, and hot dog sales, raising approximately $25,000.


Professor of physical education Katherine Sibley, an advocate for gender equity, establishes the Department of Physical Education for Women. This department offers women students the opportunity to major in physical education for the first time, and provides them with dedicated faculty they had long lacked. Sibley is a leading voice for a new dedicated building for women’s athletics and recreation.


Margaret Olivia Slocum Teachers College (now School of Education) begins offering B.S. degrees in physical education, with separate tracks for men and women designated as “Physical Education (For Men)” and “Physical Education (For Women).” Students complete courses in the College of Liberal Arts (now College of Arts and Sciences) and in the Teachers College.


The Department of Athletics and Physical Education and the Department of Physical Education for Women are formally named. In March, the University authorizes a two-year campaign to raise $750,000 for the construction of a new Women’s Building and includes the project in its 1941 all-University development program. World War II brings a halt to the campaign, which resumes in 1949 with $430,000 from previously raised funds. 1 Pictured are 1940s scenes of physical education programs at Syracuse University.


Syracuse University’s B.A. in health education is first offered. Six years later in 1952, the department is renamed the Department of Physical Education, Recreation, and Health.


After almost 50 years of advocacy by women on campus, Syracuse University hosts a groundbreaking ceremony for the Women’s Building on November 15, 1950. Lead advocate Katherine Sibley turns the first spadeful. In 1953, the new Women’s Building is dedicated and first occupied by the Department of Physical Education for Women, Dean of Women’s Office, Women’s Student Government, Panhellenic Association, and the Women’s Athletic Association. It featured a 35×75-foot swimming pool, a large gymnasium, a smaller specialized gymnasium for physical education majors, six bowling alleys, a dance studio, three lounges, a kitchen, library, and reading room. 2 The pool, pictured, is named for Sibley in 1955. 3 Pictured from left to right are J. Winifred Hughes, Mrs. H.B. Crouse, Katherine Sibley, Mrs. William P. Graham, and Mrs. Gertrude (Trot) Brooks at the 1953 dedication ceremony.

The Women’s Building serves as the hub for women’s intercollegiate athletics until 1982, when they merge with the men’s program and move to Manley Field House. The Old Gym, which in 1928 had been relocated to allow for construction of Hendricks Chapel, was demolished in 1965 to make way for the new Physics Building.


Physical activity and athletics gain momentum in the United States. In 1954, the American College of Sports Medicine is established. That same year, Roger Bannister makes history as the first person to run a four-minute mile. Two years later, the President’s Council on Youth Fitness is founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1963, President’s Council on Physical Fitness is founded by President John F. Kennedy.


A junior at Syracuse University, Katherine Switzer ’68, G’72 becomes the first woman to enter the Boston Marathon, which at that time only permitted men. A race director tried to forcibly remove her two miles into the run, which made news around the world and created a revolution in women’s running and women’s athletics.


The separate physical education tracks for men and women are combined under the Department of Health, Recreation, and Physical Education. The department programs are offered as single enrollment in the College of Arts and Sciences rather than dual enrollment with the School of Education. In 1974, the department begins transitioning from the College of Arts and Sciences, and by fall 1978 is single enrollment in the School of Education. 4 Pictured is a 1970s scene of physical education programs at Syracuse University.

Five years later in 1978, the National Strength and Conditioning Association is founded.


In the School of Education, the department is called the Health and Physical Education program. Until 2007, its academic degrees are listed under “special subject programs” in course bulletins, which suggests that the term “department” is not used for Health and Physical Education at this time.


On June 4, 1988, the University holds a groundbreaking ceremony for Flanagan Gymnasium, which was created to accommodate increasing student interest in fitness and health. Built in conjunction with the refurbishment of Archbold Gym, the building contained a fitness center; racquetball, squash, and basketball courts; dance studios; fencing room; and swimming pool. It was first occupied October 30, 1989. 5 Pictured are the basketball courts at Flanagan Gym in use in the late 1980s.


Growing public interest in fitness through the 1970s fueled a boom in popularity for the field of exercise science in the 1980s and 90s. This drives creation of academic studies in exercise science across the country. At Syracuse University, academic programs in physical education shift their focus towards kinesiology, biomedicine, and the sciences. 6 Pictured is a 1990s scene from physical education programs at Syracuse University.

Syracuse begins admitting exercise science Ph.D. students in the 1990s through the School of Education, graduating about 25 doctoral students over the course of the next 20 years.


Syracuse University first offers a B.S. in health and exercise science. Three years later in 1996, the U.S. Surgeon General releases the first report on physical activity and health.


Syracuse University first offers an M.S. in health and exercise science. That same year, the department and its programs are renamed Exercise Science.


Exercise Science receives its first departmental research grants from the New York State Department of Health (focused autonomic function, exercise training, and Type 2 Diabetes) and the American Heart Association (focused on autonomic/chronotropoic control of exercise heart rate).

In 2004, Exercise Science receives its first research grants from the American College of Sports Medicine (focused on strength training) and the U.S. Department of Education (focused on muscle strength and physical work capacity in Down’s Syndrome). 7 Pictured is a 2004 scene from exercise science programs at Syracuse University.

Two years later, Exercise Science receives its first departmental NASA grant. The study is focused on neuromuscular function and countermeasures during space flight.


Exercise Science is listed as its own separate department in the School of Education course bulletins instead of under “special subject programs,” as it had been since 1983.

The Department of Exercise Science receives its first research grant from the National Institutes of Health. The grant is focused on autonomic function, exercise, and Type 2 Diabetes.

Syracuse University and the State University of New York Upstate Medical University partner to offer a 6-year physical therapy doctorate program in a 3+3 format, where students spend 3 years at Syracuse for undergraduate study and then transfer to SUNY Upstate, ultimately receiving a B.S. in health and exercise science from Syracuse and a Ph.D. in physical therapy from SUNY Upstate.

The following year, the first physical activity guidelines for Americans are issued by the U.S. government.

In 2011, The Department of Exercise Science receives its first research grant from the National Science Foundation (focused on the genetic factors determining exercise capacity in highland natives). 8 Follow up grants from NSF have supported student and faculty research expeditions to Mount Everest in Nepal. Pictured is the 2018 expedition.


The Department of Exercise Science moves from the School of Education to join the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. The move aligns academic programs with unique synergies and expands interdisciplinary research and study opportunities for faculty and students.

That same year, New York State approves the Syracuse University standalone Ph.D. program in exercise science.

9 Pictured are student researchers taking metabolic and cardiovascular measures in 2021 in one of the many laboratories housed in the Women’s Building for the Department of Exercise Science.