Minnesota had an obesity rate of 27.6% in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Gregory Dodd ’15 aims to improve that statistic in Saint Paul.

As the health and fitness coordinator for Saint Paul Parks and Recreation, Dodd develops and manages fitness programs that collaborate with local businesses and aim to be accessible for the entire community.

“I work with a lot of health maintenance organizations, like Blue Cross Blue Shield and Health Partners, developing strategies to directly hit areas that most suffer from the obesity epidemic,” said Dodd, who completed his B.S. in Healthcare and Human Services Management at Saint Mary’s University.

The fitness programs offered by Saint Paul Parks and Recreation are held in a large number of locations and are low-cost, often free. The convenience and affordability of the programs make them accessible to all population segments.

Dodd’s most popular program, Fitness in the Parks, offers a wide variety of free fitness classes in 18 parks throughout the summer and early fall. Community members can try something once or attend every week, with opportunities to learn everything from yoga, to running and biking, to kickboxing. Every age and skill level can find a class suitable to their unique needs. The program generates over 1,000 hours of free fitness and sees large participation numbers—between 15,000 and 20,000 people in 2015. Dodd is currently working on a proposal to expand the program into Minneapolis parks.

A new program being implemented this October will bring low-cost fitness classes to businesses throughout Saint Paul. According to Dodd, Fitness on the Go will partner with local fitness and exercise organizations, such as Tula Yoga and the Saint Paul Athletic Club, to bring classes and wellness plans to businesses that want to offer their employees an opportunity to stay active during the work day. The organizations will work with each individual to determine their unique health and fitness needs.

Dodd values the real-life lessons he learned in class from professors and peers as a bachelor’s degree student at Saint Mary’s University.

“Listening to other people’s real-life experiences has helped me make decisions about my programs,” Dodd explained.

Saint Mary’s professors work in the field and teach classes concurrently, so they understand the struggles and responsibilities of adult learners.

“The professors don’t separate school from the real world,” Dodd said. “They realize you have a job as well as being a student and understand your responsibilities in the real world. There is a good blend of education and life outside school. That’s why I’m going straight through and continuing classes.”

After completing his bachelor’s degree, Dodd enrolled in the M.A. in Organizational Leadership program. His motivation to make a difference as a good leader inspired him to learn more about the subject and hone his own leadership skills.

“I’m learning about leadership from new perspectives and looking at it in different ways,” Dodd said. “I manage several businesses and organizations for each of my fitness programs, so I’m applying what I learn in class to my work every day.”

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