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Knowledge Representation Essay

Since beginning my coursework over four years ago, I have attempted to focus my

assignments on exploring the benefits of college students’ involvement in co-curricular activities.

Having worked in student services, particularly in collegiate recreation, for five years before

starting my program and continuing to work in the field during most of my studies, the subject is

of importance to me and my professional work. This exploration started in my first elective

course, Current Trends in Higher Education (CTCH 792), with the examination of co-curricular

transcripts for college students as a means to encourage participation and to demonstrate to

employers the benefits of such participation.

Over the course of my first year (2013-14) of working at Mason as the Assistant Director

of Club Sports, I noticed the importance of financial donations to the sustainability of impactful

co-curricular programming, particularly club sports. After speaking with collegiate recreation

colleagues at several conferences that year, I noticed that club sports alumni were largely an

untapped market for donations. In fall 2014, I focused both my quantitative and qualitative

papers in Research Methods (EDRS 810) on proposed projects that would quantitatively measure

the propensity of club sports alumni to give back to their alma maters and the amount they

donate and qualitatively explore the barriers and motivations for those donations. It was during

this class that I first found the work of Shapiro and Giannoulakis (2009) and Shapiro,

Giannoulakis, Drayer, and Wang (2010), and reached out to Shapiro to receive a copy of the

survey instrument, the Former Student Athlete Donor Constraint Scale, that he and his

colleagues used to explore barriers to donating for former varsity athletes.

My exploration of the benefits of co-curricular student involvement and collegiate

recreation continued into History of Higher Education (CTCH 821), where I explored the history
of recreation programs and facilities on campuses and the roles they were intended to play in

student life. In Advanced Institutional and Program Assessment (CTCH 826), I further examined

the assessment of student learning through co-curricular involvement. In Qualitative Research

Methods (EDRS 812), I expanded upon a quantitative research project I had started working on

at Mason Recreation that had identified which students were least likely to visit the department

and used focus group interviews to help understand the barriers that prevented female and off-

campus students from utilizing Mason Recreation’s programs and facilities. This project not only

allowed me to learn more about this student population, but also enabled me to conduct focus

group and individual interviews, and practice my transcription and coding skills. As a side note,

the project also led to an extremely well attended presentation at the 2017 NIRSA Annual

Meeting and to modifications to Mason Recreation facilities and programs, including the

creation of a newly signed trail on campus. Co-curricular student development was also my

subject of exploration in Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (HE 704), in which I designed a

study to assist in helping club sport student leaders recognize the transferable skills they were

learning, and in Leadership in Higher Education (HE 710), in which I argued that

transformational leadership was an effective model to use to help college student leaders develop

transferable skills.

As I continued to work through my coursework and examine the benefits of co-curricular

learning, for which a good amount of literature exists, I kept thinking about the future of these

programs and how they would be funded as public support for higher education continues to

decrease. In terms of which potential research project would potentially provide the greatest

benefit to my profession, my project from EDRS 810 stayed top of mind. My coursework has

helped demonstrate to me the benefits of co-curricular learning, as well as the unique nature of
students’ experiences in co-curricular programs. How do those experiences affect future

donations back to the institution? And how do students’ experiences in club sports, specifically,

affect the decision of whether or not to donate back to their alma maters?

As this portfolio review is occurring later than it should, I have had the opportunity to

delve further into these questions. In Advanced Qualitative Methods (EDRS 822), I developed a

potential methods section for investigating these questions. Through this course, I was also better

able to understand my epistemological stance as being constructivist, which reinforced my desire

to have an important qualitative component to the project. As a constructivist, I believe that each

individual creates their own reality based on their experiences; in order to understand how each

alumnus’s experiences of participating in club sports affect their decisions to donate, a

qualitative method is required.

In my last portfolio review, Dr. Baker offered to work with me on an independent study

that further explored the research to date on my proposed research questions. This class, titled

Philanthropy and Affinity in Higher Education and Sport (HE 897), allowed me to more broadly

investigate the history of philanthropy in American higher education, the research on motivation

and barriers to philanthropic giving, and factors that influence donations, such as age, income,

and student experience. The extensive literature review that I produced demonstrated a dearth of

scholarly literature on the subject of club sport alumni philanthropic giving and the barriers and

motivations that affect their decisions to donate.

My next steps are identifying potential venues where I might be able to conduct this

research. A key requirement is that the institution has at least 15 years of participation records

for their club sports program to account for previously identified factors that influence donations,

such as age and income. A second requirement is that the institution’s Foundation is willing to
work with me to share their aggregated data and their alumni’s contact information. My

preliminary inquiries have identified Virginia Tech and Duke as two institutions that would

fulfill the first requirement, but I need to complete more work to identify other potential venues.

I also plan to integrate digital tools into my qualitative work on this project, including the

use of qualitative analysis software to assist in my triangulation of data and video recording

methods to assist in interviewing former club sport athletes from wherever they may now be

living. To assist in this, I am currently taking Digital Methods in Qualitative Inquiry (EDRS


Shapiro, S. L., & Giannoulakis, C. (2009). An Exploratory Investigation of Donor Constraints

for Former Student-Athletes. International Journal of Sport Management, 10, 207-225.

Shapiro, S. L., Giannoulakis, C., Drayer, J., & Wang, C. (2010). An examination of athletic

alumni giving behavior: Development of the Former Student-Athlete Donor Constraint

Scale. Sport Management Review, 13, 283-295. doi:10.1016/j.smr.2009.12.001