Three CPASS Sport and Exercise Psychology graduates share stories about how they landed positions in Southeastern Conference universities. They talk about their typical day at the office, why they chose WVU and how their CPASS degree has helped them succeed in the industry. Each one offers advice for students wanting to enter the field. Although their paths might be different, they share one thing in common. They are passionate about the people they met and family connection they created during their experience as Mountaineers.
Director of Counseling and Sport Psychology and Assistant Professor/Director of SEP Graduate Program, University of Kentucky
Hometown: Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
B.A. Psychology (Honors), Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, NS, Canada
M.A. Sport Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
M.A. Community Counseling, WVU
Ph.D. Sport and Exercise Psychology, WVU
Assistant Director of Counseling and Sport Psychology, Mississippi State University, Department of Sports Medicine and Performance, Mississippi State University Athletic Department
Hometown: Fayetteville, NC
Ph.D. Sport and Exercise Psychology, WVU, 2018
Graduate Certificate University Teaching, WVU, 2017
M.A. Clinical/Mental Health Counseling, WVU, 2017
M.S. Sport and Exercise Psychology, WVU, 2015
B.A. Sociology, Davidson College, 2011
Director of Counseling and Sport Psychology, Auburn University
Hometown: Pomona, CA
Ph.D. Sport and Exercise psychology, WVU, 2014
M.A. Community Counseling, 2014
Ed.M. Sport Psychology, Boston University, 2007
B.S Psychology, University of La Verne, 2006
Describe your career in sport and exercise psychology.
After graduating from WVU, I was hired as a faculty lecturer in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion at the University of Kentucky. At the time, UK did not have a sport psychology presence in the athletic department, so I reached out to some coaches on campus to see if they were interested in adding me as a resource. I started with one team, then two, then three. This continued for the next two years and I had a nice balance between teaching and working with athletes.
Meanwhile, on the academic side, I developed a master’s program in sport and exercise psychology, housed in the College of Education. During this process, I was promoted to assistant professor. The program is now in its third year and we have 16 graduate students. There are two tracks within the graduate program: applied and research. Both tracks are two years but with a different emphasis during the second year.
I currently divide my time between being a faculty member and coordinating counseling/performance psychology for all 21 athletic teams and more than 500 student-athletes. I have graduate students to help manage the case load as well as mental health professionals to work with the more clinical cases.
I began my career as a student working two summer internships and gathering extra experience in sport psychology and counseling and attending and presenting at sport psychology conferences. I began my professional career in sport and exercise psychology as an assistant professor in the department of psychological sciences at Winston-Salem State University during the 2018-2019 academic year where I taught introduction to psychological sciences and sport psychology.
Although I loved teaching at WSSU, I knew that I wanted to gain more applied experience with collegiate student-athletes and earn my Licensed Professional Counselor credential. After the NCAA legislation passed, several opportunities presented themselves to gain that applied consulting and counseling experience. I applied to a few and began working at Mississippi State University in July 2019.
Following my graduation from WVU in 2014, I accepted a position as a Cognitive Performance Coach (CPC) with the United States Army in Fort Bragg, NC. In my two and half years there I had the privilege of providing performance enhancement training to special operations soldiers. I worked with 10 other CPCs which felt like advanced graduate school training because we collaborated frequently and challenged one another to get better every day.
In 2017, I went to work at the University of Washington (UW) with one of my friends whom I met in my master’s program at Boston University. Our team of two provided mental health counseling and performance enhancement training to 550 student-athletes and several teams. During this short stint at UW, Dr. Cassie Pasquariello supervised my counseling hours, I passed the counseling licensure exam and became a licensed mental health counselor in the state of Washington. I am thankful that I completed the community counseling master’s program at WVU because becoming licensed has literally changed my world.
Late in 2018 I was offered and accepted the director of counseling and sport psychology position within Auburn University Athletics Department. Although I was hesitant, at the AASP Conference in Toronto, Dr. Jack Watson reassured me that I was well prepared for this new adventure. He was right. Now I am five years post-graduation, have lived in three different states for three different jobs, have two children and, thankfully, still have my one lovely wife.
Describe a typical day at your position. Why are you passionate about your job?
One of the great things about my job is that there is no typical day. However, there is some consistency in how I’ll typically divide and organize my time. “Athletic days” usually involve meeting with 4-5 athletes, 2-3 coaches (often quick conversations to check in or plan future workshops), and a workshop/team session. I will usually dedicate one day a week to meeting with support staff (e.g., sports medicine, strength and conditioning, and/or nutrition), while also making time to attend practice, team meetings, staff meetings, or University counseling staff meetings.
“Faculty days” are a little more structured, where I will teach 1-2 courses (depending on the semester), meet with graduate students, supervise internship and thesis work, and serve on various committees. Currently, we’re revising our SEP graduate curriculum while expanding internship sites for our advanced applied students.
It is often said that there is no such thing as a typical day when you work in college athletics and my experience has proven that to be true. A work day can consist of several different activities ranging from individual and group counseling sessions to attending performance team meetings from different sports or various practices or competitions.
At MSU, there is collaboration among several different departments, so I attend meetings among coaches, athletic trainers and team physicians. Additionally, our department maintains partnerships with other campus and community organizations, involving meetings with those groups.
I am passionate about my job because it allows me to support the holistic development of college student-athletes. College student-athletes are often seen as one-dimensional beings. However, they are similar to other college students, facing the same developmental, personal, social and emotional challenges, just in the unique context of college sports.
I spend most of my time meeting individually with Auburn student-athletes for a variety of reasons, such as mental health, performance enhancement, relationship building, academic concerns, etc. As a part of an interdisciplinary team within Auburn Athletics, it is common for me to consult and/or collaborate with team physicians, athletic trainers, dietitians, strength and conditioning coaches and academic advisors. I am in meetings with coaches, administrators or campus partners, observing practices and competitions, planning or conducting workshops or writing policies.
I love the variety in my role. There are never any dull moments. There is a lot of opportunity for me to grow our department and the services we provide to the athletic department. When I initially learned about sport psychology in high school, I thought I would only work with individual athletes. There is a lot more behind-the-scenes work that happens to help individuals, teams and organizations develop and experience success. Knowing that the counseling and sport psychology department may play a minor, and sometimes major role, in that success is rewarding. I am grateful to have the privilege to be a part of and witness the development of human beings who happen to be amazing student-athletes and coaches.
Why did you select WVU CPASS?
I’m originally from Canada and didn’t think I would ever end up anywhere south of the border. To be honest, I knew very little about graduate programs in the USA and was solely focused on applying to PhD programs in Canada. But, while completing my master’s degree at McGill, I met a professor (in Canada) who, after learning that I was interested in applied sport psychology, informed me that WVU’s program was one of the best places I could be trained as a practitioner. I did some research and was thoroughly impressed with the curriculum, the amazing faculty, and dual degree structure with counseling.
I selected WVU CPASS because I knew that my experience there would prepare me for a position like this. WVU CPASS gave me the opportunity to gain knowledge in teaching, research, consulting and counseling. While I knew that I wanted to gain experience in each of these domains, I didn’t realize that CPASS would give me the opportunity to become proficient in every single one, which helped me shape my career aspirations.
After participating in interview weekend with several impressive candidates, Dr. Watson notified me that I was on the waiting list. I waited patiently because I knew this would be the right program to prepare me to thrive in our field and nearly be guaranteed a job upon graduation. During the interview weekend, all candidates were provided a “welcome packet” with information about the SEP program. On the last page of the packet was a list of recent graduates and where they were employed. To say the least, there were several rock stars on that list and I admit I wanted to be one of them, or at least be employed. When Dr. Watson called to extend an invitation into the SEP family, initially I was shocked, and once it settled in that this was really happening, I accepted.
Who was your mentor and why he/she made a difference?
To be honest, each faculty member helped in their own way and continue to serve in mentorship roles. Since graduating, I have collaborated with former faculty members to publish research and book chapters, deliver conference presentations and workshops, and continue to reach out for career advice.
One of the things that attracted me to WVU was the collaborative advising model. While Dr. Zizzi mentored my dissertation work, I frequently reached out to Dr. Watson, for example, for a teaching-related question, or Dr. Etzel when developing a workshop for athletes.
As a final note, Dr. Vanessa Shannon, who served as my dissertation advisor before moving on to work in the applied sector, now serves as my counterpart at the University of Louisville. She and I continue to chat every few weeks and support one another’s work despite being cross-state “rivals.”
I was fortunate to have several mentors during my time at WVU CPASS. First, Emeritus Dean Dana Brooks taught me numerous professional and personal lessons. Despite being at the end of his time as dean, he remained passionate, positive and forward thinking. He taught me to always begin with the end in mind as you creatively work toward solving a problem or addressing an issue. Second, Interim Dean Jack Watson was always available for me to learn more about the profession as it grew and changed tremendously during my years at WVU. Finally, I think about a few other SEP professors including Drs. Sam Zizzi and Ed Etzel who were tremendous mentors during different parts of my WVU journey.
During my six years at WVU I have had several mentors within the program, including Drs. Jack Watson, Sam Zizzi, Vanessa Shannon, Edward Etzel, Damien Clement, Michiko Iwasaki, and Ed Jacobs. They all had a role in my development as student, sport psychology consultant, counselor and person. The one consistent element amongst them all was that they believed in me and did not limit my potential.
How did WVU prepare you for your career goals?
The most valuable thing that WVU did in preparing me for a career was ensure that I was a well-rounded professional when I left. At the time, all students were required to gain experience in the three pillars of sport and exercise psychology (teaching, research, and consulting). I really appreciated being encouraged to expand my experiences.
Specifically, when I entered the program, my goal was to become a full-time practitioner with a professional sport organization. I had my sights set on an NHL team or working with an Olympic Committee. However, I was offered a graduate teaching assistantship at WVU and because of this, I absolutely fell in love with teaching and shifted my career path into academia, while still hanging on to the possibility of working alongside athletes in an applied setting. I have my perfect job now, which came from being given these opportunities at WVU.
WVU prepared me for my career goals by allowing me to gain experience doing everything that I have done in my SEP career thus far. It taught me that it’s not enough to gain experience if you’re not reflecting on how to improve through the process. Having teaching, research and consulting seminars as a regular part of the program clearly reinforced the value of purposefully reflecting on your experiences and finding ways to refine your skills and develop your craft.
When I arrived on campus I was challenged with guidance and support. I had my master’s in sport psychology, started working with one of WVU’s athletic teams almost immediately. In my second semester I taught an undergraduate sport psychology course and began to find my research interest. Simultaneously there was a running theme from our professors to find your passion. My passions were counseling college athletes, student-athlete career development, with some interest in youth sports. I was encouraged to get as much quality experience in these areas as possible.
By the time I departed from WVU, I had been a sport psychology consultant for a WVU athletic team for three years, completed my practicum and internship at the WVU Career Services Center, taught several courses, created a mental skills program within WVU’s basketball camp and other youth sport camps, did enough research, presented at professional conferences and built great relationships with my peers. All the skills associated with these tasks have connected with nearly every job post-graduation. This is probably why I was hired immediately after graduation.
What was your favorite thing about WVU/Morgantown?
That’s an easy one… meeting my wife. She was completing her PhD at the time (in a different college) and as luck would have it, we were enrolled in the same multivariate statistics class in the fall 2011, sat next to one another on the first day, and started dating shortly after. This was great because we were able to support each other through comprehensive exams, dissertation defenses, and everyday PhD struggles. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her.
My second most memorable thing about the experience was the other students in the program. We came in from across the country (in my case, across an international border), and became a close-knit family.
My favorite thing about WVU and Morgantown was the pride that everyone had in the institution. That pride was visible in the students, faculty and staff. It wasn’t limited to our athletic teams. Additionally, I appreciated the strides that the SEP program took to be close knit personally and professionally.
Meeting my wife and the birth of my daughter will always be my favorite things about WVU and Morgantown. I met my wife a month into starting the SEP program. Shortly after, we were dating. One day she asked, “What type of job are you going to have when you finish your program?” “I want to do counseling work with athletes, so I need to go where the job is. If you want to continue this relationship, please be prepared to move frequently in my first five years out of school,” was my response.
Apparently, she was okay with this answer. We got married and gave birth to our daughter at Ruby Memorial Hospital, two and half years later. When WVU football games are televised and if the camera angle is right, you can see Ruby Memorial Hospital in the background. I remember watching a game with my daughter and I pointed to where she was born. She was so excited.
What is your advice for current students who want to get into SEP?
Make sure you take the time to fully understand what you’re getting into. Sport and exercise psychology is a misunderstood field and there are many misconceptions about what we do as professionals. Take a course, reach out to a professional, attend a conference, read some research, or all of the above. I have met graduate students who are applying without much direction and think that SEP sounds like fun because they love sports or played baseball in high school. There’s a lot more to it.
Also, if you’re in graduate school or soon to enter, remember that your cohort (and even students in different programs) are not your competition. In some cases, you will get your dream job because of the help from those people. Collaborate, listen and learn.
My advice for current students who want to get into SEP is to look beyond what you want to do individually and think about how you want to fit in and make an impact on the field. SEP has grown tremendously and continues to grow. The field is small, so it is relatively easy to connect with graduate students and professionals. Make sure that your networking attempt is authentic, genuine and purposeful.
The best advice I have was given to me by my professors and fellow SEP students. Focus on quality, not quantity. There will be several opportunities that will be presented, and you will need to say, “No” to some of them to not hinder the quality of your work.
“Be Ethical!” was written in my Ethical Issues in Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology book when I asked Dr. Watson for his autograph. Early into the SEP program, Dr. Justine Vosloo said, “Do not compare yourself to other students in the program.” We all became our own version of rock stars. When you make the trek up #researchmountain or participate in some cool workshop, always remember to build relationships with people and enjoy the journey. It could take you to three states in five years.