Balancing act: CSU faculty member recognized for promotion of physical activity in cancer survivors

Heather Leach in a professional head shot
Heather Leach, assistant professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science.

Balancing the demands of research, teaching, and service can be a challenge for any faculty member, and especially for early career faculty establishing independent research programs. Heather Leach has excelled at all three.

Leach is an assistant professor in the Colorado State University Department of Health and Exercise Science and the director of the Physical Activity for Treatment and Prevention Lab, where she studies the factors that can help people be more physically active, and the benefits of physical activity for these individuals, including those living with chronic diseases such as cancer. As a result of her efforts, Leach has been awarded the Lincoln Laureate – one of the Provost’s Awards for Faculty Excellence at CSU.

Research and outreach with cancer survivors

“Dr. Leach has excelled in teaching, scholarship, and community engagement and is recognized as a leader in the field of physical activity for cancer survivorship,” said Barry Braun, professor and department head in Health and Exercise Science, who nominated Leach for the award, along with HES Professor Dale DeVoe.

Leach received her Ph.D. from the University of Houston in kinesiology and completed her post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of Calgary. Her research focuses on the factors that impact whether and how people engage in physical activity, and the physical and psychosocial effects of physical activity interventions and programs. Leach’s research has received some impressive grants, including a five-year, $700,000 career development award from the American Cancer Society examining what drives behavior change and spurs cancer survivors to adopt and maintain a physically active lifestyle. Leach also has an outstanding publication record, publishing 29 articles in peer-reviewed journals.

Leach has used her research in physical activity and exercise for cancer patients and survivors to develop Fit Cancer, a community based outreach program at CSU. “Not only is Fit Cancer a terrific service to the community, it is an exceptional training opportunity for both graduate and undergraduate students,” said Braun.

Mentoring and teaching

In addition to her research and service, Leach is also an active mentor and teacher. She has served as the senior author on over 30 graduate-student-led conference presentations, four of which won top research awards. Leach has been asked to present her work at the national meetings of the American College of Sports Medicine. In 2019, she was chosen as the Distinguished Fall Lecture Series Speaker by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the ACSM.

Leach has served as a mentor to more than 15 HES undergraduate students, and currently advises four M.S. students, and one Ph.D. student. She has developed the HES 354 course named “Theory of Health Behavior” that is now required for students who are enrolled in the health promotions track. Leach has also taught the HES 145 introductory class.

“Peer evaluations from five different HES faculty noted many strengths, including an engaging style, excellent organization, and facilitating substantive discussion,” said Braun about Leach’s teaching.

About the Lincoln Laureate award

The Lincoln Laureate award, part of the Provost’s Awards for Faculty Excellence at CSU, celebrates “exceptional balance and joint excellence across teaching, scholarly or creative activity and service in the best spirit of the Land Grant University mission.”

The Department of Health and Exercise Science is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.