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UST’s MASPP Degree Sets Alumna on Dream Career Path with Houston Astros

Ryan Whitlow, MASPP '22Ryan Whitlow, 'MASPP '22, moved to Houston in 2019 to pursue a career as an elementary teacher after graduating from the University of Alabama with a Bachelor's in Interdisciplinary Studies. Over the next three years, while she taught at KIPP Texas, Alief Independent School District, and Rhodes School of Performing Arts, she contemplated her next career move.

  Raised in an athletic family, Whitlow was a competitive dancer at Dance Fusion Studios while her father worked as a basketball coach. This background gave her a solid inclination to pursue a career in sports. She wanted to combine her passions — athletics, psychology, mental health, and social-emotional training — into her life's work.

 "My father taught me the importance of mental performance in sports," she said. "I decided this career path will give me the tools to help those in the areas I am passionate about while staying in a teaching realm."

 UST's MASPP Program Launches her Next Career Move

 In pursuing her dream career, Whitlow discovered the new accelerated BA/MA program in Applied Sport and Performance Psychology that launched in 2021 at the University of St. Thomas-Houston

 "I reached out to the MASPP Program Chair and former British Olympian, Dr. Lennie Waite, who mentored me in sports psychology while determining a career change from teaching," she said.  

 The MASPP program offers online and on-campus learning. It is for those interested in working with individuals in sports, performing arts, and health and fitness arenas on psychological factors to improve human performance. 

 "Ryan reached out to me when she was a teacher to explore the switch to sport psychology," Waite said. "She has always set the example of how important it is to reach out to people working in the field that you want to work in and getting guidance from them to help navigate the career switch." 

Whitlow graduated in the first cohort class of the MASPP Program in December 2022

 Full of confidence, Whitlow says, "The program taught me the skills I needed to perform the job well. It taught me tenacity and open-mindedness would be needed to create and complete a position in the field and how to build and lean on a community of learners to grow in my craft."

 Whitlow Lands Position with Houston Astros

 Recently, Whitlow landed a job with the Houston Astros as a Mental Performance Apprentice, working with their minor league team to enhance their mental performance as individuals and as a team. Daily, she will attend meetings and games to build rapport with the athletes and give cognitive skills in real time on topics they need to overcome mental barriers, develop mental fortitude, and prepare them to move forward within their professional careers. 

  "I hope to learn as much as I can about working with professional athletes, organizations, and their needs as I glean best practices," she said. "I will use these lessons to strengthen my skills as a mental performance consultant."

 "When Ryan was in the program, she continued to reach out to people in the field to build connections and explore career options," Waite said. "She made the most of the program at UST and spearheaded the sport psychology club, worked with athletic teams, and was passionate about teaching mental skills. Her effort paid off with a dream job opportunity upon graduation!"

 Advocate for Athletes on Mental Performance and Mental Health

Whitlow says her next career goal is "to become certified in both mental performance and mental health to work with athletes on topics such as self-talk and building confidence as well as mental health issues such as depression or PTSD. Working with athletes on both aspects requires her to become a licensed psychologist.

 Lastly, Whitlow wants to advocate for minority athletes. I want to be the voice to guide change, growth, and understanding within the sports world. I also want to give back to those who come behind me," she said.

 In pursuit of this part of her new career goal, Whitlow will attend Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA, in fall 2023 to earn a Doctor of Counseling Psychology Degree (PsyD).