Kinesiology grad highlights how movement is for everyone

Throughout her degree, Iris Ho has worked with diverse groups, helping people thrive through adapted exercises, play and more.


Going places: Iris Ho leads a fun plasma car session with Grade 5 students in the U of A's U School program. The newly minted kinesiology graduate is passionate about ensuring all people have a chance to thrive through movement. (Photo: John Ulan)

When Iris Ho chose to pursue a degree in Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation, she had her sights set on either going into medicine or becoming a physiotherapist. She knew she wanted to help people, but her understanding of exactly what that means changed throughout her studies.

After Ho chose to major in adapted physical activity, the various placements and volunteer opportunities she had sparked a major shift in her perspective.

“What I really loved was the relationships you got to build and just better understanding my role among others, better understanding ableism,” she says. “I learned a lot about all these assumptions and things I didn’t know I had when interacting with people, and it made me a more conscientious person.”

As she explains, those within the adapted physical activity major “emphasizes a collaborative approach to exercise, as well as health in general.”

“We’re really focused on connecting with our clients, understanding their story and trying to meet them where they’re at.”

She got a first-hand look at what working with clients might be like at The Steadward Centre for Personal and Physical Achievement. The U of A facility focuses on programs and opportunities delivering adapted physical activity and parasport, and it gave Ho the chance to bring what she was learning in the classroom into the real world.

“Instead of establishing myself as the expert and ‘helping’ people by telling them what to do, it’s working with your client to figure out what their needs are and making plans or programs to fit their terms.”

The experience was so rewarding that she returned the following semester, interested in working with another population the facility serves. She volunteered with one of the para-athletes programs, moving from a one-on-one approach to helping develop a group of competitive athletes.

She likely would have spent even more time volunteering with the Steadward Centre in the semesters to come, but the chance to pursue an opportunity that had been intriguing her for years proved irresistible.

Ho had seen a presentation about Play Around the World during her first year of undergrad, but the program — which requires students to spend several months in a faraway country — always seemed a little daunting. Finally, in the summer before her fourth year, she realized it was now or never.

She applied, figuring she could push her graduation date back from spring to fall this year if she ended up being one of the successful candidates — which she was.

“I thought it would be an experience that would really add to my undergraduate degree and would be a great way to end off this program,” she says. “I could bring in all the skills that I’d learned throughout my degree and apply it into a different knowledge landscape, to push myself out of my comfort zone and experience the opportunities to connect that are out there.”

I’m really interested in connecting with others, and the best way to do so is by exposing myself to perspectives from those who have different experiences than I do.

Iris Ho, ’22 BKin

Iris Ho, ’22 BKin
(Photo: John Ulan)

The students in the program go abroad to facilitate play leadership every year, and when Ho participated, they travelled to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Play Around the World is a service learning program within the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation that begins with a classroom component where participants learn “theory and foundations behind play” as well as skills in global citizenship.

Then, they pack their bags and head out for the three-month field placement, helping develop and run play-focused activities in various schools and organizations.

“As a play leader, we want to focus on the child’s voice leading the session. We want to make sure that they’re practising autonomy and control within their environment and respect that within our work, so we make sure the games we’re facilitating are culturally relevant to where they’re living and something they want to do.”

Ho was interested in how the new surroundings would help her further develop her skills.

“I’ve only ever worked with communities within the U of A or within my own community here in Edmonton, so I wanted to bring it to a different cultural context.”

The experience was so enriching that when she returned, she became one of the committee members for the program.

Her particular major also allowed her to see the full range of career options that might be possible down the line.

“I think it’s important to be able to view kinesiology as a holistic degree or faculty,” she says. “What’s really special about the major is that there’s the science, there’s the play, there’s different types of movement. Being able to view it like that opens doors for you and broadens the opportunities you are able to see yourself taking on.”

Ho has her sights set on a career in medicine, and is studying for the MCAT. She knows she wants to work in a health-care setting, using her experiences working with diverse populations as a foundation that will allow her to provide the best possible care wherever she chooses to work.

She’ll be taking a gap year after graduation, but many of her planned activities are a continuation of the passions she developed during her degree. Ho will help support the next team of students in the Play Around the World program. She also plans to become a presenter for a play-focused offering at U School, where she did her kinesiology practicum as a wellness intern and later facilitator, helping to prepare a variety of activities to engage young students while promoting secondary education.

“I’m really interested in connecting with others, and the best way to do so is by exposing myself to perspectives from those who have different experiences than I do,” she says. “And being able to connect with different communities will allow me to better appreciate the position of those who I work with in the future.”