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Gao Named Department Head in Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville


Zan Gao is the new department head in the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies (KRSS) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences (CEHHS). Gao assumed his new role on August 1st.

Photo of Zan Gao.

Zan Gao

Prior to joining CEHHS, Gao served as professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the School of Kinesiology at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, specializing in physical activity and health. Gao received his in PhD in Pedagogy and Psychological Science of Physical Activity from the Louisiana State University in 2007. He worked as the Assistant Professor of Sports Pedagogy at University of Utah from 2007-2010, and as Assistant Professor of Exercise Science at Texas Tech University from 2010-2012. In 2012, Gao was recruited by University of Minnesota’s prestigious Kinesiology program, and he established the Physical Activity Epidemiology Laboratory there.

“I am so pleased to have Zan join our team in CEHHS and to lead the department of KRSS,” said Ellen McIntyre, CEHHS Dean. “Zan is a role model for a scholar and teacher and recently was inducted in the National Academy of Kinesiology. He has already jumped into the leadership role as department head, bringing with him some great ideas from Minnesota.”

Gao’s research focuses primarily on promoting health among underserved populations through novel physical activity interventions with emerging technologies, such as active video games, virtual reality, exercise app, and health wearables. In the past 16 years, Gao has given 246 presentations at various international and national conferences. He has also published 3 edited books, 29 book chapters and 170 research articles in peer-reviewed journals such as British Journal of Sports Medicine and Obesity Review, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (JAMA Pediatrics)Journal of Physical Activity and Health, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, and the Journal of Teaching in Physical Education.

Gao is the recipient of several international and national awards, including the 2008 National Association for Kinesiology and Physical Education in Higher Education Hally Beth Poindexter Young Scholar Award, the 2009 American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (AAHPERD) Mabel Lee Award, the 2013 National Association for Sport and Physical Education Curriculum and Instruction Heitmann Young Scholar Award, and the 2015 SHAPE America Leroy T. Walker Young Professional Award.  Gao has been the principal investigator of National Institute of Health research grants, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Grant and AAHPERD Seed Grant.

In addition, Gao serves as a reviewer for numerous professional journals, and is currently the Editorial Board Member of Contemporary Clinical Trials, Games for Health, BioMed Research International, and Journal of Clinical Medicine, and the Associate Editor for three top tier professional journals (Journal of Health and Sports Science, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, and Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport). He is the Fellow of National Academy of Kinesiology, the Fellow of American College of Sports Medicine, and the Fellow of SHAPE America! Research Council. Gao’s Google h-index is 51 and h10-index is 122. Most recently, he has been included in the World’s Top 2% Scientists from all areas (Career Impact) (1960-2022) List and 2022 Impact List (Ranked #55,863 in the world).

Gao has outlined several initial priorities for the department, which include:

  • Improving the department’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, as well as its overall climate.
  • Ensuring the success of students and fostering collaborative efforts to reinforce both undergraduate and graduate programs.
  • Nurturing the growth and development of faculty and staff members, leveraging their strengths to maintain excellence in teaching and research.
  • Investigating ways to unite various focus areas within the department and across the College to secure grant funding and facilitate collaborative projects, while also establishing fresh funding sources for the department.
  • Enhancing the visibility of our department and the impactful programs.

“The Kinesiology, recreation, and sport management programs at UT have been growing steadily,” said Gao. “I am very excited for the opportunity to lead the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies, which stands as one of the biggest departments on campus. Many recognize the excellent standard set here thanks to past leaders. I’m committed to maintaining this high standard. I’m excited to work with everyone, from top administrators to faculty, staff, and students, to propel the College’s mission forward.”