Alumni Profile: Sophia Baur-Waisbord

Sophia Baur-Waisbord

Name: Sophia Baur-Waisbord

Major: Health and Fitness

Graduation Year: 2017

Current position: Pursuing a Master of Higher Education degree at Harvard University

How did you wind up at Harvard getting your master’s in Higher Education?

Sophia: After graduating from U-M in 2017, I worked as a consultant for Alpha Gamma Delta’s headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. I traveled around the United States and Canada for two years and visited over 30 different college campuses doing consulting work with chapter officers and leadership. It exposed me to this field of higher education, specifically college campuses and student experiences.

I met different campus administrators and fraternity and sorority life professionals and learned about the master’s program in Higher Education. I thought that would be the perfect way to tie together my love for college campuses and the student-athlete experience. Through being enrolled in the School of Kinesiology, I got an internship working with U-M’s football team, where I gained firsthand knowledge of what football players at U-M go through. I'd been thinking about how universities specifically support student-athletes and what that experience looks like.

When I toured Harvard’s campus, specifically the Graduate School of Education, I was connected with Michigan Kinesiology alum Lauren Roberts, who did this same program. She showed me around campus and talked to me about the program, and because I had that Michigan connection with her, I trusted her thoughts and feelings about the program. She told me this was exactly where I wanted to be, and she knew this would help me. Because she was also a Kines student, I knew that she was looking through the same Kinesiology lens. I decided in April that I would come here, and now I'll be graduating in three months.

How has your Kinesiology degree contributed to your success?

Sophia: I came into wanting to pursue Kinesiology because I was passionate about sport’s impact on society, which drove me throughout my four years. I remember taking this class with Dr. Rebecca Hasson (associate professor of Movement Science) during my senior year where we explored how societal inequities can prevent people from pursuing a healthy active lifestyle, how that can by affected by race, class, and gender. All of these things that I think are super important for us to talk about in the classroom. I realize that jump-started my passion for sports tying into the larger society, further cementing my belief that sports are a microcosm of society, and what is happening in society can be reflected through sports. I was then able to apply for an internship with Michigan Football, which jump-started my passion for the student-athlete experience. I wouldn’t have gotten the internship or developed my passion for student-athletes without Kinesiology’s connections.

Kinesiology allowed me to have this unique lens coming into my master's program because of my previous experience working with student-athletes. In my master's cohort right now, most people have a background in admissions and student access, but I was the only one coming in with that student-athlete experience. I think that provided a useful perspective in my class conversations and discussions. Additionally, it makes sense to pursue Kinesiology because it's got me to where I am today. Even though I'm not directly in sports marketing, or sales, or being a physical therapist, it's so applicable to different fields because it’s the classes and opportunities you have when you're an undergrad that expose you to ways you can use your Kinesiology degree. That is what is so cool about the degree.

What made you interested in supporting student-athletes, as opposed to other student populations?

Sophia: I think because I worked inside and outside of the classroom with them, I got to see the holistic student-athlete experience. I loved sports; I played competitively in high school. I decided to not play sports in college, but I still had that background and love for sports. I was a nutrition intern in the Performance Science department for Michigan Football. I worked very closely with student-athletes, advising them on properly fueling their bodies and keeping their bodies in optimal shape to compete every Saturday.

You develop these relationships with student-athletes in terms of understanding what they want to do with their lives, why they love football, why sports are so important to them, and how Michigan specifically is helping them live out their dreams. I thought that was such a unique role - higher education providing this opportunity for students to play their sport and helping them pursue their dreams even after graduation. But then, how does the university support them during their experience? I just found that important.

Tell me about your experience in the Kinesiology program.

Sophia: I loved it. When I was looking at colleges, I only applied to schools that had a school of Kinesiology. And when I came to the Kinesiology Admitted Students’ Open House I went to an info session and I listened to Tom George (Applied Exercise Science and Movement Science assistant professor of clinical practice) speak. I knew from that moment that I wanted to be part of the work he was doing because he was talking about sports psychology, understanding the mind of athletes, and helping them perform their best. That was initially what sold me on going to the School of Kinesiology at Michigan.

My Health and Fitness (now Applied Exercise Science) degree allowed me to take both Movement Science and Sport Management classes. I got to be in the classroom with people who approach Kinesiology from very different angles. It was really interesting that professors use their own tangible experiences while teaching.

It wasn't like I was sitting in a classroom reading about sports psychology. Tom George was talking about the studies and work he's done outside the classroom. That made what we were learning more tangible. The same thing with Rebecca Hasson. She does so much great research in her lab and was able to tie that into the classroom learning experiences. It was also the students. I felt like students were asking important questions about the role of sports in society. This is why U-M is the optimal place to study Kinesiology.

Also, I have felt so supported by administrative staff, faculty, professors, and staff members within the School of Kinesiology. I could just walk into one of the Kines buildings and be able to sit and talk with a professor. I think that shows the care and dedication Kinesiology’s staff and faculty have for the students and making the experience great.

I was also inspired by my classmates. Seeing what they have gone on to do with their careers, it proved to me this was the right decision for me. I felt Kinesiology opened doors for me. I wouldn't have met the people that provided professional opportunities for me. Also, one of my classmates was in my sorority, and she was the one who convinced me to take on leadership positions in my sorority. Then meeting a Kines alum while coming to Harvard and deciding if I want to pursue my master’s here. It continues to come up and connect me with people, even after graduation, that changed my life’s trajectory and the decisions that I've made.

What was the best part of your major?

Sophia: Honestly, the class topics that were available each semester. The classes were always interesting and were taught by professors who cared about what they were teaching. Kelli Donahue (Sport Management lecturer), Tom George, Rebecca Hasson, Kathy Kern (Movement Science and Applied Exercise Science lecturer), they were all amazing faculty members who cared about their students and taught interesting topics I don't think I would have found anywhere else.

What would you like prospective students to know?

Sophia: The School of Kinesiology allows you to explore your passions. I always joked with Kathy Kern in our advising meetings that I tried every single major within the school, besides actually being in the Sport Management program. The degree is flexible; it allows you to take classes in each focus area. If you declare one Kines major, you still have the opportunity to explore so many other pathways, and you should. I think that opened my eyes to so many different ways of looking and talking about things.

Also, the connections you make within the school will be so important and are going to continue to come up. And I just can't speak to that enough because I would say most of the professional opportunities that I've had, I've either met someone who was a Kines grad or they connected me with someone who helped me pursue that professional opportunity. The power of networking within the School of Kinesiology and the exposure to a variety of topics, classes, and conversations are huge. I would not be where I am today or think the way that I do if I didn't have those two things when I was in college.