Photo by Denise Robbin |

Every spring semester, Campus Recreation offers the Group Exercise Mentor Program, which trains students to lead group exercise sessions for the University of Rhode Island. The program is free for all undergraduate and graduate students of any major. This year, 16 students are participating in the program, according to Fitness and Wellness Specialist Denise Robbin.

“The Group Exercise Mentor Program is a program for students who aspire to be group exercise instructors here on campus,” said Robbin. “It’s not a certification. What we do is go over some of the things that would help you prepare for a certification.”

Students first attend an introductory meeting in early February. Students then attend a workshop the next Saturday, in which they learn basic fitness skills and are paired with a mentor. The mentors are students that went through the program before and are current group exercise instructors. Over the next five weeks candidates shadow their mentor’s group exercise class and co-teach at least once. Robbin also highly recommends that students shadow a second class so candidates can see different types of group exercise and different kinds of instruction.

“I don’t want you to be just like your mentor. I want you to be you,” said Robbin.

Students then write weekly reflections on their observations and focus on how they can mold their own personal teaching style. Robbin said that these aren’t graded but are for personal use and reflection.

After the five weeks of training, students must prepare a 20 minute audition for the Campus Recreation staff by leading a brief group exercise. Students are also interviewed for a job in group exercise training. If they pass, students must apply for a group exercise certification of their choice in order to be eligible for employment as a group exercise instructor. Since group exercise activities are diverse, ranging from Zumba and Pilates to spin and self-defense, there are multiple kinds of certification depending on what the candidate wants to teach. Students in the program can choose to receive multiple certifications.

Although certification is required for group exercise instructors, Robbin feels that the GEM program is more important because it truly prepares students to teach.

Leticia Orozco, coordinator of Fitness and Wellness programs, said that the program has grown significantly throughout her time at URI.

“I’ve been here for about ten and a half years. We had a bare bones in-house training program that grew into what we have now. Previously it was simply in-house training. Now, it’s an experimental learning opportunity, learning leadership and teaching skills,” said Orozco.

“[I love] to see a potential instructor become the sought-after, high energy and confident instructor,” Orozco said about her favorite part of the program. “This transformation isn’t just about knowing what to do but how to captivate an audience.”

Orozco is also proud of the diversity the program offers. “We offer a wonderful variety of classes that target different interests. I’m very proud of it.”

Robbin also found the success of her students’ the most satisfying part of the program.

“My favorite thing is watching them succeed,” said Robbin. “Watching them grow, flourish. The group I have now and the same group of people I’ll have in September are very different people. I love seeing their success.”

Many students joining the program have a group exercise background. “I actually do (group exercise) quite often, so that’s why I wanted to learn more about the program,” said Becky Souriyavong, a freshman who is joining the program. “I actually was scared coming at first, but coming here made me more comfortable.”

Allssa Pasniewski, a freshman joining the program, has been involved in spin classes before, but wanted to join so she could start teaching classes. “I never got around to ever getting certified so I felt that this was a good way to start and get involved with others like me who are trying to teach too. I feel like I’ll have fun with it.”

“I love being a group exercise instructor and mentor because of the community it builds, especially in college where I think it’s really important for everyone to be healthy,” said Laura Creese, a junior and current group exercise instructor and mentor. “Working out in the community that we have here at campus rec. is something that’s really unique. I really like teaching here, having my own classes, having students that come every week and really enjoy taking my classes.”

When asked what she would say to someone who was considering participating in the Group Exercise Mentor Program, or group exercise in general, Robbin said to “just do it.”

“Everyone belongs. I don’t care if it is your 80 year old grandmother, or the D1 athlete. I want both of those people in that class and both of them to feel like they belong there.”