Kinesiology undergrad student Brooks Leitner has always been fascinated by human capacity and performance.

He first learned about the field of kinesiology as a high school student attending University of Maryland's Young Scholars Program.

“I thought it was amazing,” said Leitner, who now studies kinesiology at the UMD School of Public Health under Dr. J. Carson Smith. “My dad ran ultra marathons, and I always wondered – how in the world could someone do that? And why can some, and not others? I wanted to find out what makes the best people the best.”

Leitner has been working with kinesiology professor Dr. Smith in the lab since his freshman year at UMD. He’s especially drawn to clinical research, and exploring new ways to rehabilitate people with different pathologies.

An athlete himself, Leitner plays intramural soccer and teaches swim lessons at his fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta, in his spare time. But his summers have been busy: As a Maryland Summer Scholars Award recipient in 2013, Leitner spent his summer commuting between UMD’s School of Public Health and the Maryland Neuroimaging Center, where he was contributing to an acute exercise study that examined how bouts of exercise affect a person’s brain function.

In 2014, Leitner traveled to both the Orlando American College of Sports Medicine and the Universitas 21 Undergraduate Research Conference 2014 in Shanghai, where he presented research on heart rate variability and mood changes.

He also led a summer exercise class at a retirement center three days a week, performing data analysis with Dr. Carson.

“It was one of the only studies I’ve done where participants become friends,” Leitner said of the summer project. “I was invited to a pool party for a participant’s 50th anniversary. It’s been awesome to see survivors of strokes, or those at risk for strokes, improve over time.”

He plans to apply to dual-degree graduate programs in the future -- something that would allow him to both work with patients and conduct research. And he hopes to stay close to home, Leitner added.

“I’m open to anywhere, but after the Young Scholars Program in high school, I knew Maryland was the place I wanted to be.”

Published Aug. 11, 2014