Inside the mind of researcher William Massey

Assistant Professor William Massey joined the College of Public Health and Human Sciences in September 2017. Before coming to OSU, William served as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee’s Department of Kinesiology. He’s also held appointments as an assistant professor at Concordia University Wisconsin and lecturer at Carroll University and the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Sports Science from Central Michigan University, a master’s degree in Kinesiology from Southern Illinois University and a PhD in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee

What made you decide to get into kinesiology? Is there one specific moment that inspired your career path?

“There hasn’t been one moment or experience that has inspired my career path. Overall, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to follow my passions and curiosities. Being housed within kinesiology has allowed me to apply what we know about movement science to what we know about youth development in an effort to merge these two fields in my work.”

What does your current research entail?

“My work looks at the impact of play on youth development. One of my current foci is examining the quality of elementary school recess and how this shapes a child’s experience. Often times, we think of recess as a great thing for children, but it’s easy to overlook that for some, recess might not be a positive place. While we know that children are generally physically active at recess and can develop pro-social skills through cooperative play, it can also be a place of bullying and aggression.

“My work is focused on examining what a quality recess entails and how schools can bring safe and healthy play to all children, particularly youth who’ve experienced trauma.

What sparked your interest in this topic?

“The short answer is seeing firsthand the need and potential impact of this type of work. During my education and training, I worked as a therapist for homeless, runaway and traumatized adolescents in the inner city. Talk-therapy with teenagers in the midst of trauma was often difficult and didn’t always seem to hit the mark. I started to integrate things like boxing, going for walk or other movement activities with my clients. Often, engaging in something like boxing became a gateway to processing emotional experiences.

“I’ve spent countless hours on hundreds of elementary school playgrounds over the last few years studying school-based recess. Seeing the disparity between children who have access to space, equipment and otherwise safe play compared to those with no access to green space, no equipment and unsafe play spaces really speaks volumes. Similarly, seeing playgrounds where there is constant fighting and a lack of emotional safety validates the need for this type of work.”

How does your work make a difference?

“First, I think it’s important to understand that the United Nations has deemed play as a fundamental right of childhood. We need to fight for and advocate this right. In terms of my own work, the long-term goal is to make an impact on policy as it relates to access to play for children. I also think it is crucial that we don’t lose sight of children’s experiences and perceptions and turn play into an adult mandated domain.”

What’s next for you?

“We’re currently planning a large national study where we’re going to assess the quality of the recess environment, as well as the amount of time children have access to recess. Within this study, we plan to examine how recess quality and access is related to social, emotional and personal development. Following that, we will start to conduct targeted intervention studies to examine how changing quality and access to recess affects makers of youth development.”

What is the best advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it?

“Two things come immediately to mind. The first comes from my PhD advisor Barbara Meyer. One of her favorite sayings was, ‘excellence is not a 9-5 job.’ Her point was if you want to be great at something, you cannot just clock-out at the end of the day because excellence at anything demands much more. Accomplishing your goals and getting where you want to be in your career takes a higher level of dedication, commitment to the process, attention to detail and willingness to invest what others won’t. I think this also speaks to the importance of following your passion. If you don’t have a deeply rooted interest in something, you’re not going to put in the time and effort needed to succeed.

“The second comes from my friend and mentor, Tim Nelson. He once told me that my kids do not care how many papers I publish, but they do care if I come home for dinner every day. I think that puts a lot of perspective on life and really helps to balance the advice above.”

What advice would you give to current students and recent alums?

“Find something you love to do and try to do it better than anyone else. Don’t worry about finding and creating more opportunities. If you do good work, they’ll present themselves.”

What are your favorite activities outside of work?

“Since moving to Oregon, one of our favorite family activities is to head to the coast. I also relish any opportunity to get into the mountains and go hiking.”