Samantha Ross, MS ’15, MPH ’18, PhD ’19 is amplifying the voices of people with disabilities and blending her passion for inclusive physical activity with community-based health promotion.
An assistant professor at West Virginia University, she was recently awarded the “Dr. G. Arthur Broten Young Scholars Recognition Award” for her co-authored paper, Teaching inclusive physical activity promotion: Critical evaluation of one undergraduate kinesiology assignment at the 2021 Western Society for Kinesiology and Wellness annual conference.
Tell us more about yourself and any influences on your career.
I grew up in Colorado and moved to Oregon in 2012 for my undergraduate studies at the University of Oregon. I volunteered at an adapted horseback riding center and after graduation I was hired as an instructor. It was there where I began learning about the importance of promoting community physical activity for individuals with disabilities.
One of my students recommended that I check out IMPACT at Oregon State University. I was excited to continue my education in a program that researches innovate ways to promote physical activity for children and youth with disabilities and values community engagement. And so, the story goes for how I became an Oregon Platypus, a hybrid of an Oregon Duck and OSU Beaver.
In 2014, Sam Logan joined OSU and offered me an opportunity to continue my PhD. He was seeking innovative ways to support early childhood mobility and play for children with disabilities, which included starting the Go Baby Go Oregon program. I connected with the program’s mission, relating it back to the opportunities for movement and learning that horseback riding offers.
What is your current role and what do you enjoy most about it?
I am an assistant professor of adapted physical activity at West Virginia University. My job brings me joy inside and outside the classroom.
We play sitting volleyball, beep baseball and goalball, among other Paralympic and adapted sports. It is exciting to see students connect these opportunities and inclusive strategies to their own career goals or personal teaching/coaching philosophies.
Outside the classroom, my job brings me joy when I can leverage it to uplift the voices of individuals with disabilities through research. A critical component to my current research projects has been hiring an individual with a disability as a research assistant or advisory board member. I value these contributions, as they substantially strengthen the potential impact of the research.
How has your Oregon State kinesiology degree impacted your career path?
OSU offered an exciting opportunity to study kinesiology and adapted physical activity within a school of public health and human sciences. As a student, it was exciting to explore connections between the design and delivery of physical activity instruction for individuals with disabilities, and broader community-based health promotion.
I feel well-prepared to effectively mentor emerging professionals with career ambitions in allied health, coaching and physical education, and the sport and fitness industry. My certificate in adapted physical activity has prepared me to teach students about inclusive coaching and teaching strategies, and to give them the tools to be advocates for positive change within their communities.
I also had hands-on experience as a graduate student supervising and coordinating IMPACT and IMPACT for Life. I use the professional skills learned through that experience every day in my new role.
As an assistant professor, I teach an introduction and advanced course in adapted physical activity and coordinate the practicum associated with the course. I partner with public schools and community programs for peer-mentored physical activity and physical education programs for children and adults with disabilities. The undergraduate students in my courses serve as peer mentors and group leaders in these programs.
What advice do you have for students?
Connect with your peers outside the classroom and build support communities that will extend beyond graduation. My ongoing connection to OSU graduates has been instrumental in my success as early career faculty. In fact, my paper submission for the young scholar award was co-authored with fellow OSU alumnus Jafra Thomas, PhD ’19.
They are a sounding board for new research ideas and creative solutions for work challenges. They also keep me grounded in life outside of work, and we celebrate big and small wins together. I am especially grateful for these relationships after moving across country to West Virginia and then working remote for my first year and half at WVU.