Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Future of USC: Adding a Sports Psychology Major

The University of Southern California is constantly trying to improve the academic horizon for its students by setting goals for the future and having a plan about how to achieve those goals. The 2004 strategic plan for "increasing academic excellence" at the university consists of three elements. First, we want to "conduct a range of research and scholarship that advances knowledge and at the same time addresses issues critical to our community, the nation, and the world." Second, we wish to "create a significant global presence that will increase international visibility, reach, and impact of our research, scholarship, art, education, and service." Finally, it is important for us to "focus our educational programs on meeting the needs of qualified students worldwide, from undergraduates through continuing professional development."

Through these objectives, USC aims to be "one of the most influential and productive research universities in the world." In order to achieve this goal, four "strategic capabilities" to focus on in the present have been suggested, which serve to facilitate the evolution of the university as it changes for the future. First, since society's problems do not fall within one domain of learning, we wish to "span disciplinary and school boundaries to focus on problems of societal significance." Second, we desire to "link fundamental to applied research," so as to make research and implementation more effective in practice. Third, we should "build networks and partnerships" all around the globe, because it is impossible for USC to have all of the answers all of the time. Fourth, we want to "increase responsiveness to learners," so as to better serve the students and their interests. By following these four capabilities, USC will be better able to accomplish its plan for the future.

My field of desired study, sports psychology, is one that is not explicitly represented at USC; therefore, I wish to lobby for the adding of a sports psychology major or minor for undergraduates, a masters or doctorate program for graduates, or at least the offering of sports psychology classes under the "psychology major" umbrella. Some people may say that a Bachelor of Arts in sports psychology may be too specific a field for an undergraduate degree, or that once a person completes their BA in psychology, they are more than welcome to attend graduate school for sports psychology. However, I believe that a BA in sports psychology is no more occupation-specific than a BA in accounting, or a BA in international relations. It is only those who do not know the expanse of the world of psychology, and the different areas of study within it, who argue that a Bachelor's Degree in the general area of psychology is sufficient.

Adding a sports psychology major at USC would address all four strategic capabilities for the university's plan for the future. First, sports psychology does not just involve the department of psychology, but it also reaches out to the Kinesiology department and Physical Education program, which satisfies the inter-disciplinary capability. Adding the sports psychology major would also attend to the second capability, because the research done about athletes could be used in either undergraduate or graduate classes to conduct experiments on the athletes (both intramural and school-sponsored) at USC. Since sports psychology is becoming an increasingly popular area of study, programs are now developing all over the world at various prestigious academic institutions, such as the University of Limerick in Ireland, where they offer a Bachelor of Science in Sport and Exercise Sciences Honours Degree. What is more, esteemed organizations such as the United States Olympic Committee use sports psychologists to train their athletes. Collaborating with other universities who also boast a program while having a partnership with a respected organization like the USOC would not only expand our partnerships in the world, but also elevate the university to a higher level of prestige in the eyes of the public.

More importantly, however, creating a sports psychology major would serve USC's student interest in a very direct form. According to the USC Recreational Sports website, "over 1155 Undergrad students participate in club sports along with 250 Graduate and 45 Alumni/Faculty," while about 566 students compete in university-sponsored sports. This means that over 10% of the entire undergraduate population at USC participates in sports at school, and probably an even greater number are interested in sports in general, since not everyone who likes to play sports enrolls in a club. What is more, thousands of USC students attend football games every year, signifying their interest in sports and football in particular. This great surge of interest in athletics shows the need for an academic response: USC is such an athletic school, and yet no academic possibilities besides kinesiology have been offered in reply to accommodate this great fascination. If a sports psychology major were introduced, I believe the student response would be overwhelming, and that a great many students (and especially student-athletes) would take great interest in the opportunity.

A sports psychology program will not only satisfy the short-term capabilities that the university desires to achieve, but will also put USC one step closer to attaining its long term goal of becoming a more diverse and well-rounded institution. I believe that by adding a BA in sports psychology, the university will be a more worldly and attractive place for potential students, and will be better able to serve the learning interests of the masses.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

True Leadership in Sports Psychology: Nominating Kirsten Peterson

"In bestowing an honorary degree, a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most.”

The quote above was taken from James Freedman's book, Liberal Education and the Public Interest. Freedman (pictured left), the former President of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth College, rightfully believed that honorary degrees should be given to those who demonstrate truly valuable contributions to a university and to mankind at large, and who possess the ideal values that society holds dear. He argued that the degree is sometimes wrongfully given too freely to undeserving celebrities, "who are often famous principally for being famous." Freedman's ideas influenced me this week to think about important individuals in my field, sports psychology, who would be deserving of the honorary degree and recognition for their achievements. Since USC does not yet have a sports psychology program, I could not nominate an alumnus of the school. However, there is no scarcity of potential nominees in the United States in general, so my search for a candidate was still extensive and difficult to choose.

A leader is someone who not only sets an example for others, but more importantly influences their field in a way which greatly advances the study and practice of that discipline. For this reason, only leaders should be nominated to receive the esteemed USC Honorary Degree, which is given to "individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in...the professions" and "who have made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC or the communities of which they are a part." These nominees should project a positive, model image of what the university pictures as ideal, and they should be "widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor" by their colleagues. The recipient of the honorary degree will also give the commencement speech for that year; an honor in itself. This speech is normally about current issues in the world, as it serves to send off the graduating class with high moral hopes and expectations of making a difference in the world.

I believe that Kirsten Peterson, PhD, fulfills the requirements for an ScD (Doctor of Science)honorary degree recipient perfectly, and is the most deserving individual of this gift in the field of sports psychology. Not only is she a leader in his endeavors, but she shows her care for athletes and human-kind in general through her practice. Peterson, one of three full-time sports psychologists of the US Olympic Committee in Colorado, serves to aid the US Olympic athletes by mentally training them for the stressors of the Games. She is also the President of the American Psychological Association (APA) Division 47 (Exercise and Sport Psychology), which serves to register and link sports psychologists all over America. In addition, Peterson is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology (AAASP), and is registered as a "Certified Consultant," which allows the general public to contact her about problems with their training or counseling needs. Because she does not limit her clientell to Olympic athletes, and allows her business information to be widely displayed on the World Wide Web, she opens her office door to masses of people of all demographics. I believe this philanthropic gesture is one point which makes her ideal for the honorary degree, as the recipient should be benevolent to all people, no matter how talented or famous.

Another reason I nominate Peterson is because she looks at athletes as people, and not as machines whose sole purpose is to attain a gold medal. She was a firm supporter of TeamUSAnet, which serves to help retired Olympians and Olympic hopefuls after they have descended from their peak performance time in their lives. and the US Olympic Committee worked closely to first study the unhappiness of retired Olympians, then created the program to help them find pleasurable jobs after their retirement from the Games. Her support of this initiative shows her level of commitment to the athletes she counsels; even after the player is finished with his or her Olympic career, she is still concerned about their well-being and psychological state.

Considering all requirements for the USC ScD honorary degree, I believe Kirsten Peterson would be a wonderful candidate for the privilege. Her commencement speech would be one of motivation and inspiration, since that is what she does every day for her clients. She would most likely speak of the future Olympic Games in 2008, because it is most relevant to her field of study, but she would probably also compare the similarities of the Olympians to the graduates sitting in front of her, so as prove to them that they can achieve great heights if they are well prepared. All in all, she would bring encouragement to the hearts of the next generation.