Where are they now?: Tommy Valentini (Ph.D., 2014)

What happens to our Kinesiology graduates once they walk away from Cooke Hall for the last time? Many of us think about the students we got to know well, and hope they’re happy and enjoying satisfying lives and careers made possible by their years of study and hard work. Current students often wonder about what the future holds after they complete their degree. So, each month we’ll ask an alum to tell us about life after Kinesiology and share words of advice and wisdom learned during her or his time here. Our September 2015 feature is Tommy Valentini.

Courtesy of Gustavus Adolphus Athletics

Courtesy of Gustavus Adolphus Athletics

Studying sportsmanship and ethics were priorities for Tommy when he entered the PhD program in Fall 2006 in the sport sociology emphasis, working with co-advisers Dr. Diane Wiese-Bjornstal and Dr. Nicole LaVoi. Soon after completing his preliminaries, he was offered the position of instructor and head tennis coach at Gustavus Adolphus College, his undergraduate alma mater. He juggled these responsibilities while conducting research and completing his dissertation, which he defended last fall. Tommy and his wife Bethany live in St. Peter and have a 3-year-old son Fiorenzo (Enzo). They are expecting Enzo’s sibling in late September.

What sparked your decision to go to graduate school?
I have always had a love of teaching and learning, so graduate school always seemed to be a part of my journey. From an intellectual perspective, questions of how sport, competition, and team culture experiences can shape individuals and groups always fascinated me as I reflected on my own experiences and those of others. The School of Kinesiology allowed me to pursue these questions and the vocations of teaching, researching, coaching, and educating.

How do you think your experience at the U of M helped you in your career and personal goals?
My experience at the U of M was instrumental in my development as a professional and human being. The knowledge, both theoretical and practical, and the level of professionalism and care for graduate students at the School of Kinesiology are extraordinary. The guidance and modeling that I received from my professors, most of all my adviser, Dr. Nicole LaVoi, allowed me to learn who and how I want to be as a professor, scholar, coach, mentor, and person.

What were some of your greatest challenges and best experiences as a graduate student?
My greatest challenges revolved around making time for my research and dissertation after taking the head coaching position at Gustavus. All of my research and writing took place while I was coaching full time and starting a family. Being away from the U of M under these conditions created challenges, but made the completion of my dissertation extremely rewarding. My best experiences all surrounded working with and learning from Dr. LaVoi. Her support of and belief in me are gifts for which I am eternally grateful.

What advice would you give incoming graduate students?
Be thankful for all of the challenges and enjoy the journey. Take great care to be as specific as you can as early as you can with your research questions, and choose work that matters to you. If you believe in what you do and that your work will make a difference, you can endure and enjoy the process. Finally, always express gratitude to the people who support you.

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