Higher Education

NAU Honored for Support of Athletic Trainer Reservist


The “work-life balance” for an Army reservist or national guard member working at Northern Arizona University can be anything but balanced without the support of university leaders and staff.

Scot Raab, an Army reservist and assistant professor of Athletic Training Education, knows this first-hand and is thankful for the support he’s received. Last October, Raab nominated NAU for several awards for exemplary support of its employees who serve in the Guard or Reserve.

Arizona’s Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve—a division of the Department of Defense—recently announced that NAU will be honored with the Above and Beyond Award.

“Over the past five years as a professor in the Athletic Training Department, I’ve received military orders that disrupt my schedule here at NAU, and my department and fellow colleagues have been nothing but understanding and supportive,” Raab said. “Even on a personal level, fellow staffers have gone out of their way to help my wife during times I’m called out of the state for Reserve duty. I’m very happy to learn that NAU will be receiving an award for its continued support of military employees like myself.”

oregon-national-guardThe award is given to companies and institutions that go above and beyond the legal requirements of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act by providing their Guard and Reserve employees additional, non-mandated benefits such as differential or full pay to offset lost wages, extended health benefits and other similar benefits.

Raab said it is common for guard and reserve plans to change at the last minute, making it challenging for his direct supervisor. In addition to the 14 to 21 days of mandatory Reserve training each year, there also are online training hours, extended drill weekends and the required potential for prolonged active duty orders.

“It’s an honor to be able to support Scot in his service to our country,” said Debbie Craig, director of Athletic Training Education at NAU. “There are not a lot of citizens—including myself—that would give up our current jobs to serve, yet our freedom depends on people being willing to do this. I am fully supportive of Scot’s service in whatever way we can accommodate him and am so pleased that NAU, as an institution, is super supportive through policy for our military personnel.”

NAU will be awarded the Above and Beyond award during the Arizona Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Awards Banquet on April 15 in Tucson.

“Knowing my employer not only supports but values what I do as a member of the Army Reserve means a great deal to me,” Raab said. “I’m proud to serve my country and NAU, and grateful to be able to do both at the same time.”



Changing Concussion Culture


It could be because a player doesn’t want to let the team down by stepping off the field.

It could be the fear of getting pulled out of a big game.

Or it could be the pervasive misunderstanding about the severity of an injury to the head.

Whatever the reason, concussion reporting rates across the nation have hardly budged, despite a surge in policy changes, educational efforts and intensive research on the topic, a group of Northern Arizona University researchers said on Wednesday. The four professors, who come from NAU’s psychology department and its athletic training education program, are trying to tackle the issue from another angle.

Thanks to a $400,000 grant from the NCAA and the U.S. Department of Defense, the four women will examine how organizational culture influences concussion reporting and then test different strategies to boost reporting rates.

“It’s a national epidemic with the concussion issue and it’s not being solved with education,” said Debbie Craig, an athletic training education professor. “The NCAA and the Department of Defense had the foresight to say, ‘If these aren’t working then it’s most likely due to culture, so how do we change that culture?’”

NAU is one of eight universities that received grant money to research “How to spur changes in the culture surrounding concussion,” according the grant description.

The Flagstaff group’s study involves visiting four NCAA Division I football programs five times each over the span of two and a half years. They aren’t releasing the names of the schools because the anonymity allowed them to gain access to the universities and helps preserve the accuracy of their results, the researchers said.

The first visit to each university will be spent conducting player surveys, interviewing coaches and observing practices, games and places where the athletes spend time like locker rooms and meeting rooms. The women also will run association tests to gain insight into players’ subconscious beliefs about things like big hits on the field or head injuries, said Ann Huffman, an associate professor in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the W. A. Franke College of Business and chair of the university’s intercollegiate athletics committee.

Pilot research the researchers already did in Arizona found that there are multiple reasons for low concussion reporting rates. Those include misconceptions among athletes about how hurt they are, a sense of brotherhood that discourages reporting on a teammate who looks concussed, and a misunderstanding that a person has to lose consciousness to experience a concussion.

In fact, only 10 percent of concussed cases lose consciousness, said Monica Lininger, an assistant professor in the athletic training education program.

After gathering that baseline data on concussion culture within each program, the NAU research team will develop specialized intervention strategies for each school, then sit down with representatives from each program to see which suggestions they like and what other ideas they may have to address the problem. Research has shown that allowing participant input, instead of imposing the ideas brainstormed by researchers, facilitates creative ideas and buy-in, said Heidi Wayment, a professor of social psychology who has years of athletic experience as a college and professional basketball player.

A possible intervention might be identifying one or two influential people within the team and working with each individual to lead by example in terms of taking concussions seriously and reporting them, Craig said. Another idea might be removing photos or posters that appear to celebrate violent play on the field, Lininger said.

Suggestions for changes may also involve piggybacking on the positive values, like hard work, camaraderie and sacrifice, that athletes and teams already carry, Wayment said.

“It will be helpful for us to understand what motivates them to do this very very exhilarating and difficult work,” she said. “Maybe some of those same values can help nudge behavior in a way that might help them with their own safety and health and their teammates.”

The final three visits to each university, which will kick off in the fall of 2017, will be a pre-intervention assessment, a post-intervention assessment to look for changes in behavior or in the players’ environment, and then a visit to present the study’s results and ask for feedback.

The women’s hope is that their research will provide useful insights for not only college football players but other athletes and age groups as well. Ideally, their recommendations will inspire athletic policy changes among institutions, conferences and even the NCAA, they said.

“We can do research that makes a difference,” Huffman said.



NAU researchers receive grant to study concussion reporting


The long-term impact of concussions is widely known but many athletes still fear opening up about head injuries.

NAU interdisciplinary researchers have been awarded a $400,000 grant to study how organizational culture relates to concussion reporting among athletes, coaches and staff.

Research team members Debbie Craigand Monica Lininger, athletic training education professors, and Ann Huffman and Heidi Wayment, psychological science professors, have been awarded the national Mind Matters Challenge grant for their proposal, “Changing the Culture of Concussion Reporting: A Cultural Analysis and Implementation Model.”

“Concussions are unique in the field of athletic injuries because the decision whether to keep playing is less clear,” said Craig, who is director of NAU’s athletic training education program. “Everyone must believe that it is OK to report concussions. This will be a significant cultural shift from the current American football culture. Our goal is to facilitate that shift.”

Wayment said this project is a tremendous opportunity given how rapidly public awareness on head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE, is increasing.

“As we know from research in health psychology, just ‘knowing’ that a behavior can negatively impact one’s health is not sufficient for change,” she said. “I am especially excited about our interdisciplinary approach: we will be looking very specifically at multiple factors that impact athletes’ decision-making processes. My colleagues and I each bring a different theoretical perspective to the research, and we are excited to be working together.”

The objective of the project is to investigate the organizational, athletic, individual and interpersonal factors that affect concussion-reporting behavior and develop intervention strategies that increase student-athlete safety and well-being. The research study, funded by the NCAA and the U.S. Department of Defense, will be conducted over two and a half years and involve four different NCAA Division I football programs.


Emerging SettingsProfessional Sports

Lumberjack Athletic Trainer Works the Slopes


The Winter X Games is the pinnacle for winter extreme sports. For NAU Associate Athletic Trainer Brent Appel, an avid winter sports enthusiast himself, he lived out an experience for the ages recently with the opportunity to work the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen from Jan. 28-31.

“I’ve never worked an event on that scale, so I went in with an open mind,” Appel said. “It was also my first experience working with winter sports. One of the coolest things was the opportunity to work along side a group of excellent athletic trainers and physicians who were part of our medical staff. To see how they operated in a big event like that with athletes of that caliber, that was the most exciting part for me.”

Appel, in his third year with the Northern Arizona University Sports Medicine staff, is the Lumberjack women’s basketball team’s primary athletic trainer. Originally from Iowa, Appel is a member of the National Athletic Trainers Association, Rocky Mountain Athletic Training Association and the Arizona Athletic Training Association who arrived at NAU following a year at Fort Lewis College.

Although from the Midwest, Appel frequently enjoys the outdoors including snowboarding, which made his recent opportunity one that he was eagerly anticipating.

“As a guy who grew up in Iowa who loved winter sports but didn’t have the opportunities as someone who might live in the West, (the X Games) was awesome,” Appel said. “Ever since I’ve moved out West, I’ve fallen in love with these sports more and more. To see it at that level, it gave me a higher appreciation for what these athletes can really do on skis or snowboards. It put into perspective how difficult these sports are.”

The prestigious opportunity came about by chance really. With the Arizona High School Cycling League – a club who provides kids interested in mountain biking with organized races – heading up to Flagstaff last summer, Appel – a passionate mountain biker himself – seeked out an opportunity to volunteer with the club. Through a connection made with the owner of Medicine in Motion LLC, he was then invited to work at the Winter X Games.

While at the X Games, Appel was paired up with four other athletic trainers who were assigned to the X Course. With skiers added back to the X Course this year, that created more demand for athletic trainers. Appel and his team worked the practice sessions, the qualifying rounds and the actual competition. The list of athletes included men’s and women’s skiers, men’s and women’s snowboarders, adaptive snowboarders (those with prosthetic legs or missing upper extremities) and mono skiers (paraplegics on a single ski). They were also tasked with working the Big Air Snowboard event.

“My main focus was to do a good job medically, so I didn’t want to put too much focus into who I might run into,” Appel said. “But at the same time, I definitely saw athletes that I recognized from all over the world.”

The experience of working the invite-only X Games featuring the best winter sport athletes not only from the United States, but also internationally, is one that Appel will always treasure from a personal standpoint and hopes to continue. Furthermore though, from a professional development standpoint, Appel is a better athletic trainer because of it.

“My long term goals are to continue to work with athletes in these non-traditional sports,” Appel said. “I think it’s an under-represented area in terms of health care is concerned. But that’s where we come in as athletic trainers, where we can help them excel. There’s going to be traumatic injuries, and there were some this past week, but to be immersed in these emergent situations is always good experience.”

With Appel as just one example, it is clear that Lumberjack student-athletes are in outstanding hands with our NAU Sports Medicine staff on a daily basis.


Higher Education

NAU Expands Education Program


A national shift in credentialing for athletic trainers finds Northern Arizona University well positioned for expansion at its Phoenix Biomedical Campus.

The master of athletic training program on NAU’s Flagstaff campus will graduate its first cohort in May 2016, and in July the Phoenix campus will welcome its first entering class.

“The discussion started many years ago about moving the entry level for our profession from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s,” said Debbie Craig, director of the program at NAU. “As the conversation gained more steam, we knew it would be mandated eventually. So we decided to do the legwork and get ahead of it.”

That two-year process resulted in the first master’s students entering NAU’s program in the summer of 2014. Accreditation at NAU—and the anticipated national mandate—occurred in spring 2015.

The Flagstaff campus will continue to welcome 30 new master’s students per year, while the Phoenix Biomedical Campus will begin with 15. The undergraduate program at NAU will end with May’s graduating class.

Craig expects both campuses to benefit from the credentialing change and a heightened focus on the profession.

“As most people are aware, there’s a massively increased focus on concussions at the national level,” Craig said. “Not only are we thrilled there’s more attention for that problem, but it also brings a lot of attention to our profession. It’s the athletic trainers on the sidelines who are the first line of evaluation and protection for the athletes.”

The graduate program begins during the summer with classes in ethics and basic skills. Clinical rotations begin in August. Because NAU and two Flagstaff high schools can accommodate only 10 students each, the second year is spent at clinical sites around the state, with coursework performed online. Craig said the affiliation agreements with statewide clinics are a valuable asset to the program.

“There are fantastic educators who are also athletic trainers, and that’s where we like to send our students,” Craig said. “There is typically only one student at each site, so they have the clinical preceptor’s full attention. There’s a lot of learning that happens during that second year.”

Craig said that besides on-field evaluations, athletic trainers do everything from pre-practice taping to post-practice treatments for injuries that are playable. “For athletes who have had surgical injuries, the athletic trainers will often do all of the rehabilitation to get those athletes back into playing shape,” she said.

New graduates from the program, who often work at high schools, at the intercollegiate level or in rehabilitation centers, can expect starting pay of about $50,000, Craig said.

Applicants to the graduate program generally come from a background of exercise science or kinesiology, Craig said. But any student who takes the established pre-requisite courses and participates in the required number of clinical observation hours may apply.

Craig anticipates the program’s expansion will attract plenty of attention.

“People in Phoenix who are interested but can’t move up to Flagstaff for a year will be thrilled,” she said. “And we’re certainly excited about the facility in Phoenix. It’s a beautiful campus.”