KNPE to dedicate M. Joan Popp Lab

Joan Popp
Joan Popp

NIU’s Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education will dedicate a new and renovated lab in October, thanks to the generosity of a late, longtime faculty member.

The M. Joan Popp Motor Behavior Laboratory, located in Anderson Hall 213, hosts classes in areas such as biomechanics, kinesiology and motor control. It also provides robust hands-on learning and faculty research opportunities through its state-of-the-art equipment, including a motion capture, gait analysis and force plate technology.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2. NIU President Lisa C. Freeman and NIU College of Education Dean Laurie Elish-Piper will attend, as will Linda Conrad, a longtime family friend of the late Professor Popp and executor of her estate.

“We’re very excited for the impact that the new Popp Lab will have on both teaching and research in the College of Education,” Elish-Piper says. “We are appreciative of the opportunity to update an underused space and turn it into one of the jewels of Anderson Hall.”

Opened in August for the first week of Fall 2019 classes, the lab’s once-yellow walls are now painted red and gray. Its once-exposed ceiling has been tiled.

Chad McEvoy, chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, heralds the new facility as an exciting result of his team’s growth mindset and eye toward reimagining the physical potential of Anderson Hall.

Built 50 years ago, the 100,000-square-feet facility is home to “many areas that need updating to connect to the high-end, modern teaching and groundbreaking research that takes place inside our walls,” McEvoy says.

“When our college was undergoing strategic planning a couple years ago, one aspect we took on as a faculty was to talk about space planning connected to our goals,” he says. “As we discussed where we were as a department, and where we wanted to go, we knew our facilities would be a key part of that.”

Drafted in the fall of 2017 through faculty collaboration, the department’s Facilities Master Plan identified “a small activities space on the north end of our building that would have previously been a small gymnasium” as a prime candidate for transformation.

It prompted thoughts of Popp, who joined NIU in 1959 and retired 36 years later in August of 1995.

“She was a faculty member in an era in which physical education faculty were typically generalists, but her expertise was in what we now call the exercise sciences, primarily under the ‘motor behavior’ umbrella,” McEvoy says.

Popp’s gracious generosity to NIU includes the 2007 establishment of an endowed scholarship fund in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education as well as dollars to provide financial support for NIU Huskie tennis players.

Her estate plans – she died Sept. 13, 2017, at the age of 88 – also remembered NIU and her academic department.

Joan Popp and Linda Conrad
Joan Popp and Linda Conrad

“I met with Linda Conrad, and we had a long conversation about Dr. Popp and her legacy, and what might be a way to help KNPE, our students and our programs to pursue our goals in an impactful way that would honor Dr. Popp,” McEvoy says.

“Knowing that Dr. Popp had a background in exercise sciences and motor behavior and development,” he adds, “we were able to connect that with our Facilities Master Plan and reimagine this small gymnasium space as a state-of-the-art motor behavior laboratory.”

Conrad, an NIU alumna, liked the concept – and believes that Popp would have worn “just a giant grin” if she could attend the Oct. 2 dedication.

“She would be thrilled,” Conrad says. “Hopefully, it’s going to encourage the students at NIU, and the faculty there will have a better means of delivering education.”

Giving – especially to students – was integral to Popp’s life.

“It was really important to her because, as a child, she was very interested in playing tennis, but her parents couldn’t afford to give her lessons,” Conrad says.

When a man saw Popp on the local courts, Conrad says, he provided her financial support for that training. His goodwill launched her 50 years of social and competitive play before she became an avid spectator.

Joan Popp. Photo courtesy Linda Conrad.
Joan Popp. Photo courtesy Linda Conrad.

Popp later received financial aid for college at Miami University of Ohio, near her native Middletown. She supplemented that assistance with money she earned during a year of work after graduating from high school and continued part-time employment while in college.

“She always felt so grateful that people had helped her that she wanted to pay that back, and of course, she loved NIU,” Conrad says. “She had the means to help people achieve their dreams, and she did not have children of her own, so this was a way for her to invest in the future.”

McEvoy appreciates that profound gesture of kindness: “We are incredibly thankful,” he says.

“Linda Conrad has been a terrific advocate for Dr. Popp and her legacy,” McEvoy says, “and I’m thrilled that we have been able to come up with a way to very appropriately honor Dr. Popp’s legacy and to utilize her gift to provide leading teaching and research opportunities for our students and faculty.”

The M. Joan Popp Motor Behavior Laboratory: before, during and after.
The M. Joan Popp Motor Behavior Laboratory: before, during and after.
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