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Gao Recognized by SHAPE America for Enhancing Inclusion and Equity in Health and Physical Education

KRSS Department Head Receives F.B. Henderson Award for His Commitment to Inclusion

Photo of Zan Gao.

Zan Gao

Zan Gao, Department Head in Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies (KRSS) in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences (CEHHS) is the latest recipient of the F.B. Henderson Award from SHAPE America. This prestigious national award is presented to minoritized members of SHAPE America for their long-standing commitment to academic, mentorship, and service through enhancing the involvement of underserved populations in their professional field. Gao will be receiving this award at the SHAPE America national conference on March 14th, 2024, in Cleveland, Ohio.

“I am deeply honored to receive the F.B. Henderson Award,” said Gao. “This recognition by SHAPE America not only highlights the importance of inclusivity and diversity in our field, but also reinforces my commitment to nurturing and empowering underserved communities through education and mentorship in kinesiology and sport studies.”

SHAPE America is the Society of Health and Physical Educators and is the oldest and largest organization dedicated to health and physical education. Founded in 1885, the organization defines excellence in school-based health and physical education. In fact, SHAPE America’s national standards in health education and physical education have provided the framework for effective instruction for K-12 students nationwide.

Group photo of people sitting around a table.

Zan Gao (left) with a group from the Physical Activity Epidemiology Lab

Gao has made significant contributions to diversity at different levels throughout teaching, scholarship, and service. The criteria for the E. B. Henderson Award require that the recipient “demonstrate successful and exemplary involvement in scholarship.” Gao’s academic record is exceptional and well-funded. His main research focus includes population-based behavior change interventions to prevent chronic diseases through application of lifestyle technology, with the goal of promoting health and optimal development. He accomplishes this in the context of promoting inclusive environments that benefit diverse populations and is presently studying the interactive effects of modern technology, physical activity, health outcomes, and disease prevention among underserved populations including children of color, overweight adults, and breast cancer survivors.

Gao is a highly productive researcher as evidenced by his impressive list of publications in a variety of high impact peer-reviewed journals. His remarkable research production is reflected in his impressive h-index of 52 and with 7920 Google Scholar citations. Most recently, he has been included in the World’s Top 2% Scientists from all areas (Career Impact) (1960-2023) List and 2023 Impact List (Ranked #46,716 in the world). In 2023 Dr. Gao is listed as one of the Best Scientists in Social Sciences and Humanities by (Ranked 4,945 in the world and 2,463 in the U.S.). Dr. Gao has been awarded over 10 million dollars as the Principle Investigator (PI)and Co-investigator in grant funding. For example, Gao was the designer and Principal Investigator of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Salud America grant designed to investigate the engagement of urban Latino students in culturally appropriate physical activities. He was also awarded by the National Institutes of Health to study the impact of active video games on underserved children’ health. As an example of his work focusing on underserved youth, Gao recently published a paper entitled “Small-groups versus full-class exergaming on urban minority adolescents’ physical activity, enjoyment, and self-efficacy” as the corresponding author in the Journal of Physical activity and Health. He was also the lead author on an article entitled “Video game–based exercise, Latino children’s physical health, and academic achievement” in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. These and other works by Gao demonstrate an important strand of his research agenda that focuses on health and education disparities in underserved populations.

During his tenure at various universities, Gao has taught and advised students with different backgrounds and experiences derived from, e.g., different race/ethnicities, colors, religions, national origins, citizenships, sexes, sexual orientations, gender identities, ages, disabilities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. For example, he has mentored students in master’s and doctoral studies including directing master’s theses and doctoral dissertations.

In his research lab in spring 2023, there were a dozen of students and post-docs from a variety race/ethnicity and 7 countries (United States, South Korea, Japan, China, Egypt, Spain, Nigeria). In all these activities,  Gao functions with an undergirding effort to forward an agenda of diversity and equity as reflected in his participation in “Equity and Diversity Certificate” from the University of Minnesota. (2021-2022) and his “Leading for Equity” efforts at the National Association of Kinesiology in Higher Education (2021). As a result of his dedication and commitment to equity and inclusion in the profession, he received the 2015 SHAPE America Leroy T. Walker Young Professional Award.

Gao has an impressive record of leadership skills at the professional, university, and community levels, while addressing the health and education disparities during his service.  Gao is currently serving as a committee member of Diversity Action Committee at American College of Sports Medicine.

Gao believes in leading by example. As the newly hired department head of the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, one of his first sponsored activities was to organize a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion workshop for his faculty in November 2023. This demonstrates the value he places on access and engagement. The example he has set with his impressive research, teaching and service record is truly inspirational. That record is augmented by his valuing of diversity and the dignity and worth of all students, faculty, and staff. His recognition of the need and value of diversity is reflected in his scholarship, teaching, and service. The quality and quantity of his work in conjunction with the national and international recognition Gao has garnered in his career, attests to his tremendous contribution to access and engagement. He serves as an example of the value of diversity and inclusion in academia.

For Gao, the F.B Henderson Award is an incredible honor and recognition of his long-standing contributions to his profession. From scholarship to service, Gao is dedicated to promoting health and wellness to all.

“The Henderson Award  is a testament to the collective efforts of many who believe in the power of sport and physical activity to transform lives. I thank SHAPE America for this prestigious honor and vow to continue advocating for the involvement of diverse populations in our field, ensuring that every individual has the opportunity to achieve excellence in health and human sciences,” said Gao.

The F.B Henderson Award is named for Edwin Bancroft Henderson, a noted author teacher, coach, and administrator in physical education and athletics. One of his major scholarly contributions was The Negro in Sports, published in 1939. Tennis star Arthur Ashe used Henderson’s work as the basis for a three-volume series on the African American Athlete. In addition, Henderson widely recognized as the “Grandfather of Black Basketball” through his introduction of basketball in 1904 to African Americans in Washington, D.C.