College Student Services Administration master’s student Grace Fetherstonhaugh investigates how student-athlete engagement can affect a person's sense of identity and perspectives on ableism.

Grace Fetherstonhaugh

Grace Fetherstonhaugh

By Ellie Webb-Bowen, CLA Student Writer - May 19, 2024

Grace Fetherstonhaugh, ‘22, was recruited from New Westminster, British Columbia, to run the steeplechase on OSU’s Track & Field team. Fetherstonhaugh began her academic career in kinesiology and later switched to nutrition, but ultimately decided upon sociology with the intention of pursuing a professional career in social services. After completing her undergraduate degree in 2022, she enrolled in the College Student Services Administration (CSSA) master’s program in the School of Language, Culture, and Society, with a focus on student-athletes.

Fetherstonhaugh, like many student-athletes, thought that kinesiology was the best fit for her at the time, but after a period of time, her interest started to wane.

"Switching from kinesiology to nutrition was an easy choice," Festhersonhaugh explained. “There were many similarities and my goal at the time was to become a dietitian. After I spoke with my academic-athletic advisor, I found that sociology was really where my interests lay.”

While a sociology undergraduate student, Fetherstonhaugh worked at Community Outreach Inc., a nonprofit short-term housing service located in Corvallis, right when the COVID-19 pandemic began. As a Social Services Assistant, Fetherstonhaugh gained valuable experience working one-on-one with residents who needed help, including navigating employment issues and performing wellness checks.

"I loved it there,” said Fetherstonhaugh. “Through that role I discovered that I really value those one-on-one interactions, something I hope to do the same with students."

It was former OSU gymnast and CSSA student Isis Lowery, ‘20, M.Ed. ‘22, and Spirit Brooks, Outdoor School program director, who encouraged Fetherstonhaugh to apply to the CSSA program.

 “Everyone in CSSA has the goal of working in higher education and supporting future generations of students, but we all have different ideas of what roles we want to serve, as well as diverse academic backgrounds. We get to learn everything alongside each other. I think that makes the program really special,” said Fetherstonhaugh. 

For her thesis, Fetherstonhaugh created a community engagement program with OSU student-athletes and Special Olympic athletes. Her qualitative study seeks to answer how student-athlete participation in this program impacts their sense of identity and purpose outside of sport, as well as their experience and interactions with ableism in an environment that tends to idealize able-bodied people, including intellectually.

Fetherstonhaugh’s engagement method provided a space to alleviate social isolation by creating interaction amongst OSU student-athletes and Special Olympics athletes, with the desire to create a positive impact individually and within the athletic department’s culture .

“As a student-athlete,” explained Fetherstonhaugh. “I see ableism in athletics and higher education. I wanted to create a place to confront ableism through engagement, as well as help other student-athletes begin to shift their priorities and think about life after graduation.”

Complementing her master of education coursework through the CSSA program, Fetherstonhaugh is interning in the athletics department, helping other student-athletes with their academic progress and providing resources to support their transition into their post-graduation careers. As a student-athlete herself, Fetherstonhaugh understands the complexities of juggling work, school, and running, which is one of the reasons she wants to help her peers and future students. 

Now, Fetherstonhaugh is training for the Olympic trials in June, hoping to earn a spot on Team Canada, and working as a research and evaluation student assistant for the Oregon State Extension Service Outdoor School.