Fitness Expert and Business Owner Pursues Health and Wellness Management Master’s Degree to Reinvent His Career

Brandon Arbuckle February 14, 2024
A graphic featuring Health and Wellness Management student Garrett Stangel.

Garrett Stangel is a personal trainer, former teacher, and military veteran whose fitness experience spans more than three decades. He’s also the owner of Balance Fitness, where he works as a health and performance coach in the Milwaukee area.

Garrett was looking for ways to improve his business and learn new skills to better practice wellness, and he felt it was the right time to explore educational opportunities. He enrolled in the University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Health and Wellness Management to deepen his understanding of wellness and program development. 

“I really was coming up on the end of what feels like this chapter,” he said. “My kids are now officially out of the house, and so I took this opportunity to use graduate school to do a little reinvention of myself and to look at my business differently to see what that should look like coming forward.” 

“[With] a lot of other programs, you’re either doing health and wellness or how to earn a paycheck, not usually both. I really love the fact that this program marries those two things.”

Garrett’s first personal training client wasn’t at Balance Fitness, but in the military. He served in the United States Marine Corps, where he tracked safety and flight records, qualifications, and height and weight standards. When he first enlisted in 1992, his recruiter tasked him with helping a fellow recruit pass the Physical Fitness Test (PFT) as a promotion opportunity. 

“In order to be able to go and do the job that Marines do worldwide, they had to be in good physical shape,” he said. “So all of a sudden that became kind of a side job that I was doing in the military.”

Garrett worked with the recruit over the course of several months and ultimately helped them pass the test. Today, he remains mindful of the teamwork and professionalism instilled in him from the military, and he uses his past experience to enhance his work as a business owner and trainer. 

Garrett taking a picture with a group of children who are smiling and giving thumbs up. After his time in the service, Garrett pursued a degree in kinesiology to learn more about exercise science. He also earned an MA in education from Marquette University and taught at the high school and university level at Milwaukee Public Schools and Carroll University, respectively. In addition, he’s worked as a personal trainer and educator for the American Council on Exercise

As Garrett thought about reinventing his business and his next chapter in life, he did a thorough search on health and wellness master’s degree programs. Having earned his undergraduate degree from UW-Milwaukee, returning to the Universities of Wisconsin made the most sense to him. He also appreciated that he was eligible for a scholarship due to his time in the service. 

“I qualify as a military veteran for a scholarship, so the [Universities of Wisconsin] has been tremendously generous in that regard. But where, and what would I study?”

What attracted Garrett to the 100 percent online UW Health and Wellness Management program was that the curriculum featured the best of both worlds: Not only could he dive deeper into wellness practices, but he would also learn new skills for improving his business.

“I really loved that this particular program was kind of like one part MBA and one part health [and] wellness,” he said. “There was a ton of stuff already in my first two semesters I didn’t know that I hadn’t gone over, and yet I’ve been running a fledgling business. So it was really interesting to me that immediately [in the] first semester I was able to take some of this new content, apply it directly into my business, both on the business side as well as on the well-being side.”

RELATED: Health and Wellness Management Careers: UW Graduates in the Workplace

As someone who enjoys interpersonal connections and working with clients face-to-face, Garrett initially wasn’t the biggest fan of taking courses online. However, there’s something about online learning that he finds both essential and undeniable. 

“I use it because it is so darn convenient,” he said. “It’s so practical … I needed the flexibility of how it’s being delivered.”

Since he hadn’t taken a college course in many years, the transition to online learning came with an adjustment period. Working a full-time job while carving out enough time for coursework can sometimes be a balancing act, but when Garrett needs help with courses, he doesn’t have to look far. 

“All of the instructors have been very accessible,” he said. “I’ve appreciated that anytime you reach out, it’s a 24-hour or less turnaround and they’re troubleshooting with you and helping you figure it out from a course content standpoint.” 

With the program being a collaboration of UW Extended Campus and multiple UWs, Garrett has enjoyed having instructors from all over Wisconsin. He’s also gotten to meet fellow classmates who are business owners and wellness practitioners from around the US. 

Garrett credits his Success Coach, Stacy Tinholt, for helping him make the transition back into higher education.

“[Stacy] has been tremendous,” he said. “There’s been nothing that I have run into or needed that the Success Coach couldn’t direct me on and help me find a solution.” 

RELATED: UW Instructor Encourages Health and Wellness Students to Be Agents of Positive Change

Get Degree Guide

Learn more about our 100% online degree and certificate programs.

For Garrett, Balance Fitness is a labor of love. Having worked in big box gyms after his time in the military, he felt there was too much of a focus on sales and that the actual service was lacking. He started the business during his junior year of college and sold stock in the company he was working at to rent a space and buy fitness equipment. The business has taken on many forms in the years since then, including an outdoor boot camp and an in-home personal training service. 

Garrett’s work runs deeper than helping others stay active: he strives to improve his clients’ quality of life. A major part of his work as a health and performance coach is teaching athletes and adults to live healthier lifestyles. He’s shared his fitness expertise with many in the community and has even demonstrated corrective exercise as a guest on Milwaukee-area news stations.

“A lot of the people that I work with are also people with aches and pains,” he said. “The people who have disease risks, artificial parts, have had tricky histories with exercise or nutrition, and are really just looking for help to feel better.”

Through the UW Health and Wellness Management program, he’s been able to continue helping others thrive while elevating his skill set as a fitness leader and entrepreneur. 

RELATED: U.S. Surgeon General Prioritizes Creating Workplaces That Support Mental Health and Well-Being

A collage with photos of Garrett and others who have been involved with his business, Balance Fitness.

This past semester, Garrett received the opportunity to become a graduate assistant for UW-Green Bay’s nursing program. Myunghee Jun, head of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences and UW Health and Wellness Management academic director at UW-Green Bay, had sent an email to Health and Wellness Management students about the role, and Garrett immediately applied for the position. 

His responsibilities include helping with program evaluation through surveys, communications, and analyzing nursing research being done in the department. The experience will contribute to Garrett’s goal of returning to teaching at the university level while still running his business. 

“Part of it is peeking behind the curtain, being involved in some of what makes the university work so that my next step, hopefully, provides opportunities to do that on a regular basis,” he said.

Having started the program last spring, Garrett aims to graduate in fall 2024. He plans to use the knowledge gained in courses to eventually launch a new product from his business. For those considering the UW Health and Wellness Management program, Garrett says it’s a great way for wellness practitioners to improve their strategic management and leadership skills. 

“[With] a lot of other programs, you’re either doing health and wellness or how to earn a paycheck, not usually both,” he said. “I really love the fact that this program marries those two things.”

Garrett hopes his story will inspire others who are in a similar situation and may be feeling ambivalent about what their next steps look like. 

“No matter what age you are, those milestones, those forks in the road will happen,” he said. “I think this particular program, all of the stuff that goes into it—I think it’s a nice growth spurt, a nice growth opportunity, and a good focused window to reinvent and find a niche in a growing marketplace.”

Want to learn more about the University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Health and Wellness Management? Contact an enrollment adviser by calling 608-800-6762 or emailing

UW Health and Wellness Management is a collaboration of five UWs. Garrett is earning his degree through UW-Green Bay.

Programs: Health and Wellness Management