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Department of Health and Human Performance
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Jody Ruff (left) leads a workout during one of her classes
Stepping Up to Make a Difference
By Lindsey Shindler and Stewart Mann

There's just something about Johanna "Jody" Ruff that keeps her classrooms full and her students' faces permanently fixed with a smile. You could chalk it up to that "je ne sais qua," but there are other reasons that she's so popular and her classes always fill up quickly.

Ruff has been at the College of Charleston for 28 years, ever since she started with the continuing education department in 1982. For the past 20 years she has taught as adjunct faculty in the physical education department. She says she's enjoyed every minute of it, there's just something about college kids that Ruff really likes. "I enjoy being around young adults because of their energy and intellect," she says.

Ruff teaches a variety of health and exercise classes at the college, an area that has always been up her alley. Growing up in Berkley Heights, N.J., she says she was constantly active. "I was a cheerleader and dancer all through high school and college," she says, "and I've always loved to be active with things like swimming, dancing, gymnastics, and cheerleading."

Her high school sweetheart, Brian, attended The Citadel (where she also teaches), and after they were married in 1978 the two moved to Charleston permanently. Ruff received her B.A. in elementary education from Moravian College, and earned a master's degree in health, exercise, and sports science from The Citadel.

Once she moved to Charleston, Ruff was exposed to aerobic dancing, which she immediately fell in love with. "I knew this was my calling, a blend of dance and exercise," she says. She became certified to teach, and started out with classes of 80 people.

Ruff's says her greatest motivation is her students, and she wants to improve their quality of life as much as she can. She says, "I'm motivated to help turn young women and men on to loving fun exercising. It's also a great stress reliever!"

Ruff says she can't emphasize the benefits of regular workouts and healthy living enough, and incorporates those attributes into every part of her life. While some teachers have a difficult time finding a balance between teaching, research, and home life, Ruff doesn't. She says she doesn't compartmentalize her life into subcategories. "I balance everything by just doing it," she says. "It is a lifestyle. They all blend together. I love what I do, it's my passion!"

Her passion and enjoyment for her field is obvious to anyone who has taken her classes or even observes a few minutes of one. If her students are enjoying themselves, there's a good chance that Ruff is enjoying herself even more. She views teaching as a give and take institution instead of just a give, and says, "I learn as much from my students as I hope they do from me."

One student who has learned a lot from her is Mary Collen Connick, a senior from New Orleans. Connick takes step aerobics from Ruff three times a week, and corroborates what other students have been saying about Ruff for years. "I think that she's a very welcoming person and gets a lot of enjoyment out of getting to know her students throughout the semester," Connick says.

Connick describes her as very approachable and not at all intimidating. "There are always people staying after class to talk to her, or ask questions," she says. "She definitely cares about our progress, and wants us to get the steps right. She has a lot of pep in her step, and that's really encouraging. You can tell that she really wants us to enjoy ourselves."

Ruff's involvement with her students has always been a part of her work ethic. She even included and utilized her students in her research while writing her graduate thesis, "The Effects of Concurrent Aerobic Dance Training and Resistance Training on the Body Composition of College Females."

Ruff's popularity at the College certainly has its perks, as she has been recognized as the Outstanding Adjunct Professor in the Physical Education department not once, but twice.

"That's definitely not surprising," says Caroline Broderick, a junior from Baton Rouge who is taking step aerobics with Ruff. "When you mention her name in another class, there will always be someone who says 'Oh I have her, she's great!' or 'Her class was my absolute favorite last semester,'" says Broderick. "She definitely has a lot of fans and followers, and I've never heard anyone say anything less than stellar about her."

Ruff's big-picture goal is especially relevant in this country and during this time of economic crisis. She's been doing it all these years, in various ways and with various students.

The goal? "To eliminate obesity one person at a time through exercise and healthy eating," she says. And without a doubt, Jody Ruff will.