Whitegoat pursuing degree in Athletic Training and Physical Therapy

Wyatt Whitegoat ’16 searched for greater meaning in everything he did while at Cornell—and he did quite a bit. Originally from Window Rock, Arizona, Whitegoat double majored in kinesiology and psychology. He also did research with Associate Professor of Psychology Melinda Green, found brotherhood with Zeta Tau Psi, participated in Each One Teach One, traveled to Italy and also to Eastern Europe, and co-founded an organization to enhance the understanding of Native American culture on campus.

Wyatt Whitegoat ’16 is pursuing a graduate degree in Athletic Training and Physical Therapy at Saint Louis University.

Inspired by a saying his mother uses,  “T’áá níaneesht’éégo t’eeya,” meaning, “if it’s to be done, then it is up to you,” Whitegoat drew lessons of focus, determination, organization, and flexibility from his experience with One Course At A Time.

Whitegoat is now pursuing a graduate degree in Athletic Training and Physical Therapy at Saint Louis University. He says he hopes his experiences will encourage other Native Americans to consider Cornell as a place to pursue their education.

Whitegoat prepared the following responses on the overnight train to Budapest during his Block 8 course in Eastern Europe, Psychology of the Holocaust.

Q: What is your biggest academic accomplishment?
A: My biggest accomplishment at Cornell was being part of a psychology research team led by Professor Melinda Green. The research focused on body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. I knew early in my undergraduate career that I wanted to pursue research. As a kinesiology major, I knew health and exercise were what I wanted to focus on, especially on mind-body dualism and the biopsychosocial (biological, psychological, and sociological) model. Once I heard about Melinda Green’s research, I knew it was a great foundation to build what I learn in the classroom to an applicable and analytical aspect. On the team, I was able to interpret, analyze, propose, and present data gathered from the research and academic journals. The research team built the foundation of research area I want to pursue in graduate/ professional school, which is the psychological effects of injuries on athletes.

Q: Who was your Cornell mentor?
A: My Cornell mentor is Professor Melinda Green. What can I not say about this woman? Melinda Green is a very intelligent professor with words of wisdom that help guide me as a student.

As her student in the classroom, Melinda really pushed me to do my best, whether it was speaking more in the classroom or being more specific with a research paper. Once in Research Methods, she said “Wyatt, this is not your best work. Edit the marks and come back tomorrow.” I did not look to the criticism as harsh but more as encouragement because she wanted  me to do better and she knew I was able to. That night, I edited my paper, then read it over and over again before submitting it to her. When I stopped by her office, she handed to me and said, “Good job Wyatt, that is what I was looking for!” I knew then that Melinda didn’t see me as a number but as a student in her class wanting to learn more and do the best I can. Although she can be very intimidating, Melinda Green is a great professor with high expectations for her students to be the best they can be.

As her research student I knew what to expect from Melinda and knew that the standards were even higher than in the classroom. I enjoyed working and collaborating with Melinda about research ideas, and it was nice to just have a conversation about physiological heart effects among females struggling with eating disorders. As a student researcher, she taught me ways of becoming a better researcher and health care provider. She taught me not to treat a patient as another number or subject in a lab, but as a person with emotions who needs assistance. Although it was not a professional or clinical environment, Melinda Green gave me the first exposure to patient care and taught me to treat each patient as a person. I will never forget those words of encouragement, and will carry that on as I become a physical therapist.

As Melinda Green’s advisee, it was nice to have her guidance. Although it was intimidating at times because I spent class with her in the morning, did research with her in the afternoon, and met with her about course schedules and career discussions, it was nice to have someone who knew my interests. She really uncovered my weaknesses and made them my strengths to achieve in the classroom, lab room, and career path. I am truly blessed to have met Melinda at Cornell.

Q: How did One Course At A Time impact your education?
A: Cornell has taught me many things, but focus, determination, organization, and flexibility are among the most important things that I will be definitely carrying over to my graduate career.

One Course At A Time made me more prepared as a student and as a person. By prepared, I mean more focused, determined, organized, and flexible with tasks that are available to me. On the Block Plan, you are given a short amount of time to complete certain tasks, and in order to thoroughly complete each, I had to be focused. The block plan made me more determined to reach my goals. I learned that what I thought was impossible can actually become achievable if I push myself. Success depends on being organized with my time. I give a lot of thanks to my schedule planner. However, there were days that things didn’t go accordingly, and Cornell taught me to be flexible. When things shift suddenly, especially on an 18 day structure, it is good idea to go with the flow and seek alternative methods to use your time.

Q: What do you most value about your Cornell education?
A: What I most value about Cornell is the well-rounded education I received. Cornell really emphasized expanding and broadening the idea of a private liberal arts education. One Course at a Time allowed me to achieve multiple-enrichment opportunities within a given semester that would have taken me two academic semesters and the summer to achieve at a traditional school. For instance, in the fall of my senior year, I was able to study abroad in Italy, do an internship for graduate school, and complete two courses at Cornell to fulfill my major. The exposure to many environments, culture and knowledge is a well-rounded education, and Cornell does an excellent job enriching these programs for the students.

Q: What Cornell experiences prepared you for graduate study?
A: Numerous Cornell experiences have prepared me to pursue my next degree at Saint Louis, however, three essential experiences have bridged the gap between my dreams and reality.

First would be the interdisplinary course material that I gained between my psychology and kinesiology courses. My initial career path was focused on kinesiology, however, when I took Introduction to Psychology during my sophomore year, I learned that one needs to know the mind in order to understand the function of the body, and that the mind-body is one. After taking that course I knew that I needed to pursue a degree in psychology, so I could gain the knowledge of a well-rounded education. That was what I liked about Cornell; although courses were focused on their own academic subject, professors found an essential way to correspond the material that related to the student’s interest. Professors were free to let the mind of the student be the center of their academic path.

The second experience I gained would be my role as a student research assistant for the Body Dissatisfaction and Eating Disorder Lab led by Melinda Green in the psychology department. As a student researcher, I was able to interpret, analyze, propose, and present data gathered from the research and academic journals. The early exposure prepared me, because during my interview process for graduate school, research was a key component recruiters were interested in.

The third experience would be my role as a student sports medicine assistant in the athletic training room. Being involved in this program since my sophomore year has taught me a lot about the medical field, especially involving sports injury, rehabilitation, and diagnosis/ evaluation. Being a sports medicine assistant was the “finishing bow” (figuratively speaking) to the knowledge I gained in the classroom. For instance, after learning about the functions of biomechanic gait injury as a result of over exposure to weak muscle, it was interesting to see the applicable cases in the treatment room in athletes who are exposed to these problems. I think my exposure to taping, stretching, rehabilitation, evaluating and diagnosing athletes with the help of certified Athletic Trainers made me more prepared, comfortable, and successful for professional school than I would have gained from just the classroom.

Q: Did you study abroad?
A: During Block 2 of my senior year, I went to Italy for a course on Roman archaeology. This was the first course outside my majors and I really enjoyed it. Studying at the site where the readings, documentary, and lectures being discussed took place really puts the site and content of the material into perspective on a larger scale. For my final project of the course, I focused on the structural and analytical components of Trajan’s Column and how columns have followed it architecturally, symbolically, and historically.

In addition, I studied in Eastern Europe for a course focused on the Psychology of the Holocaust during Block 8 of my senior year. We studied the psychological effects that influenced the Holocaust, and the post-war physical and emotional effects survivors may have felt.. For my final project, I focused on the parallelism of the psychological behaviors of the perpetrators and victims of both the Holocaust and Native American genocide.

Q: What activities were you involved in at Cornell?
A: My sophomore year, I joined the Brotherhood of Zeta Tau Psi, an unaffiliated fraternity at Cornell. Before entering college, I had the mindset of not joining a Greek Life, but there was something different about the Zetas: their involvement in service to campus, community, and one another. The fraternity was a brotherhood built on the foundation of giving back, or “We before I.”

In addition, for three years I was part of the Each One Teach One (EOTO) Program organized by the Office of Intercultural Life. An Assistant Orientation Leader (AOL) my sophomore year and an Orientation Leader (OL) my junior and senior year, the program has really encouraged me in self-reflection. They taught me to how to become a better leader. It was great program that always made me value my culture and who I am as a Native American. I learned that as I advance in my education, I can’t let my head and ego get too big to the point  that I forget where I come from. Instead, I want to help those less fortunate achieve their goals and success, like those who have helped me. I really admire the EOTO program and I want to be a part of generating or establishing a program in graduate school similar to the values taught in EOTO.

I am co-founder and vice president of the Native Americans at Cornell College. When I arrived at Cornell, there was no organization associated with Native American tribes, so my friend Kayne White and I started the club. Cornell allowed me to truly expose a part of my culture to other people when we presented an info session on the Orange Carpet and we talked about our culture. The purpose of the organization was to enhance the understanding of Native American culture to people who didn’t know about it, and I am glad we started the organization. I hope with this club and this article, more Native Americans are able to look to Cornell as an opportunity of obtaining and achieving education, like it has positively affected me.

Q: Why did you choose Cornell?
A: I came to Cornell because of One Course At A Time. I wanted a school and a  program where I wasn’t limited to just knowledge gained from the textbooks. I felt the Block Plan was a perfect fit, because you can complete numerous opportunities in three and a half weeks. Though I was skeptical at first, after I completed my first block, and then my first semester, I was amazed by how much I had learned and experienced. Cornell really means “I can do anything in 18 days.” Looking back at everything I’ve accomplished, One Course at a Time has taught me more than the coursework. It’s taught me how to be more efficient with my time, flexible and organized. I can say that Cornell was a best decision for completing my undergraduate education.

Q: What would you tell a prospective about Cornell?
A: I would tell a prospective student to take advantage of the experience they can gain at Cornell. Although Cornell is located in a rural community, there are a lot of opportunities at this small liberal arts college. These opportunities can be achievable if you communicate with professors and advisors early on at Cornell. I did not connect with the outreach programs until my second year, and I wish I had started my second block of my freshman year. Cornell does a great job immersing students from multiple backgrounds into different programs. If there is not a program and organization available to you as person, go out and create it.

Q: Is there someone else who has inspired you?
A: First would have to be my incredible mother. My mother always had strong belief and value that education was essential and no one can take it away from you. There is a saying in Navajo, my native language, that my mother once said and it has always stuck with me to do my best: “T’áá níaneesht’éégo t’eeya,” meaning, “if it’s to be done, then it is up to you.” I lived by that motto because in the end my success and failures are really a result of me and no one else, and in order to do right, I have to achieve success. However, my mother always told me that with success and things you do, it is important to never forget who I am as a person; never forget where I came from; and those who helped me to be who I am. As my first teacher, I am forever grateful of the values my mother has taught me and continues to teach me. She has not only been my best friend, doctor, and counselor, but the best teacher I have ever had.

Two other inspirational people have been my siblings. My siblings have really created the pathway of my success and achievements because when I was young I always wanted to be like them. I have seen my sister and brother receive awards and honors on numerous occasions. Being the youngest, they set a lot of bars for me to reach. I am glad they have set those standards, because it made a better person in the classroom and outside the classroom. They also taught me that if you are going to do something, whether it be career, school work, or activities, enjoy it and learn something from it because it happens so fast you may not have another shot at the same opportunities.

Q: Favorite study spot?
A: My favorite study spot on campus is the third floor of the library, I enjoy that spot because it is very comfortable and relaxing,  it is located near the window, which provides a beautiful view of King Chapel, and it gives a café-like environment that makes doing homework more soothing and comforting.

Q: What is a random fact you’ve learned through your major?
A: It is a quote by Ivan Pavlov: “Don’t become a mere recorder of facts, but try to penetrate the mystery of their origin.” This quote really stood out to me because in any psychological field, or health related field, having knowledge and expertise does not make you a good clinician, psychologist, counselor; instead, it is the time you take to get to know your patient to find out who they are and help them be the best they can be. And as a health care provider, it is your duty to not be a textbook, but a person with advice and patience.