The Athletes of Public Health: graduate students can play collegiate sports

It is uncommon for graduate students to combine academics and collegiate sports. To bridge the gap, Campbell’s Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH) program is working with the athletic department in hopes of establishing a manageable and collaborative routine for students both in the classroom and on the field/court.  

There are currently four athletes in Campbell’s MSPH program. These student athletes play on the women’s basketball, softball and soccer teams, as well as the football team. While the MSPH program focuses on the promotion of health and prevention of disease, rural health care research, community outreach and service learning opportunities, the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences (CPHS) also seeks to develop well-rounded, team-centric graduates. That means allowing graduate students to continue competing on the field and court after their undergraduate years if they have not yet fulfilled their four years of NCAA eligibility.

In the case of the current four athletes, who had taken a “red-shirt year” at their undergraduate institutions and had one year of eligibility left, finding a program that would allow them to balance athletics and coursework was a huge factor in their graduate school choice. 

“When other athletic teams learned about our ability to work with the student athletes and tailor their workload to fit their hectic schedule, it was a win-win for both departments,” said MSPH program manager Kate Thomas. “Our core values and mission tie in closely with athletics in their desire for community outreach.”

Read more about graduate student athletes below.

Kianna Speight

Kianna Speight is a second year student in the MSPH program hailing from Conway, Arkansas. She moved to North Carolina to complete her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Davidson College. Speight was attracted to Campbell because of the dual MSPH/MBA program, the hands-on practicum and the opportunity to continue playing basketball while she obtained her masters’ degrees. She admitted that balancing her classroom and sports responsibilities took some effort, but she quickly found a groove and loves having her classmates attend her games. She led her team in 3-pointers and broke the single-season record for 3-pointers during the 2019-2020 season.

Megan Hall, Recruiting Coordinator and Assistant Coach for Women’s Basketball, shared that she had seen student-athletes stay at Campbell for their undergraduate and graduate coursework, but she had never had a graduate student transfer to Campbell to play ball. Hall shared, “Kianna set the bar for us if we are to recruit another graduate transfer. She brought so much experience to our team and was an integral part to our leadership and success.”

Destini England

Destini England is from Hoover, Alabama. She attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Kinesiology and a concentration in Exercise Science. England chose Campbell because of the atmosphere and the opportunity to obtain her MSPH while playing softball.

“Completing a master’s degree while playing softball is a bit challenging,” she said, “but that’s what you sign up for when you’re a student-athlete. If it were an easy task everyone would do it. It definitely takes a lot of planning to make sure I get everything done that I need to stay on track.”

Emily Kaestner

Emily Kaestner found Campbell’s focus on rural health appealing, and she shared that the faculty were personable and their teaching philosophies were ideal. Kaestner is originally from Houston, Texas, and she completed her undergraduate degree in Planning, Public Policy and Management at the University of Oregon.

When asked how she balances a graduate degree and competing as a collegiate athlete Kaestner shared, “Playing soccer while finishing my degree has been challenging but very fulfilling. I have always exceeded my own expectations in the classroom while competing because it forces me to have a stricter schedule. Attending Campbell was the best choice for me because my professors and coaches were willing to work with each other and allow me to excel in the classroom and on the soccer field. I am able to complete my degree and compete on the team because of my professors, coaches and support staff that help me along the way.”