Gay Israel, who led the Department of Health and Exercise Science through a tremendous growth period in his 18 years as department head, recalls the exact moment a professor inspired him to pursue an academic career.
“I was three weeks into a research methods course for my master’s degree, and this guy switched my light on and changed my life,” Israel said. “Three years later I had my master’s and doctorate and was an assistant professor at Howard University.”
Israel is receiving the Distinguished Faculty Award from the CSU Alumni Association during this year’s Homecoming, not only because he has inspired many students in the same way, but also because he helped build the faculty, funding and facilities for a department that now has the largest undergraduate major on campus.
When he arrived at CSU in 1996, he had already created successful human performance labs at Howard University and East Carolina University. He duplicated those efforts by forming CSU’s Human Performance Clinical/Research Laboratory, which is designated as a Program of Research and Scholarly Excellence. The lab has more than doubled its original footprint thanks to Israel’s leadership and fundraising skills.
“The physical space piece is one thing, but also, if you look at the faculty, it’s hard to find people he didn’t have a direct hand in hiring,” said HES Professor Matthew Hickey, who started at CSU the year after Israel arrived. “When people excel, he’s ready to put them up for college, university and national recognition. In addition, academic leaders often don’t focus enough on development, but Gay has a talent for that. He’s entrepreneurial.”
“Dr. Israel has truly been a transformational leader in the College of Health and Human Sciences and at CSU,” Dean Jeff McCubbin wrote in his letter nominating Israel for the award. “He has built the Department of Health and Exercise Science into a nationally respected and lauded program that exemplifies the land-grant mission of providing outstanding scholarship, teaching and service.”
Nancy Hartley was dean of the college at the time Israel was hired.
“He dazzled the committee and our college leadership team with his vision for the department,” she wrote for his award nomination. “Once in the position as leader of the HES department, he made good on this vision by establishing relationships with various entities on campus and in the community.”
During his tenure as department head at CSU, undergraduate enrollment tripled, a new Ph.D. program was added and research expenditures grew from less than $50,000 in 1996 to a peak of more than $2 million annually. He is founder and executive director of CSU’s Heart Disease Prevention Program and his scholarly work has been cited more than 2,500 times by his peers. He was one of only six people nationally to receive a 2015 Citation Award from the American College of Sports Medicine.
“I guess if we were to boil Gay down to one word, it’s integrity,” Hickey said.
Israel chalked that up to his upbringing.
“In 1959, at age 8, I was picking cotton for 2 cents a pound in southwest Georgia,” he recalled. “It was about the value of hard work. In a week I made $5.88. I’ve been a capitalist ever since. You should get paid for what you do, not your title.”