"I would not be where I am today if it were not for my time at the Steadward Centre. The families, students, colleagues, and community professionals I worked with taught me so much." - Amanda Ebert (BScKin '08, MA '19)
Amanda’s journey with the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation (KSR) began in 2006 when she joined the Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology (BScKin) degree program after transferring from Grande Prairie Regional College. Upon graduation in 2008, Amanda applied her BScKin degree to a full time role with the Steadward Centre, where she worked until 2009. At this time, the Fort St. John, BC native decided to leave the University of Alberta to experience travel and work abroad.
For the next two years, Amanda worked and travelled in and around New Zealand, eventually returning to BC where she worked as a rehabilitation assistant. While Amanda had no plans to pursue a Master’s degree, she had returned to the U of A in 2011 to take on the role of team lead for the Steadward Centre’s Free2BMe program, which provides physical activity and fitness opportunities for children and youth (ages four to 19) who experience physical, sensory or developmental impairments. During this time, she began to notice a common theme in working with people experiencing disability—this community seemed to be an “afterthought” across most professional landscapes. It was here Amanda’s career aspirations and educational plans took a turn.
“In my pursuit of wanting to diversify my knowledge and advance my practice in the field of physical activity, I took a graduate course in adapted physical activity (APA). As a practitioner, I began to see ways in which research and practice could work collaboratively to identify, explore and seek to resolve problems coming directly from the community.”
She had developed a strong relationship with KSR professor Donna Goodwin and, after working at the Steadward Centre for five years, Amanda decided to quit her job to become a full time graduate student under Goodwin’s supervision.
Amanda’s thesis, Sand in the shorts: Experiences of moral discomfort in APA professional practice, was spurred from her own experiences as a practitioner.
“As a professional, I noticed moments of tension—the times that theory bumped with practice, or when I made a decision that didn’t feel good, but where I felt stuck and unable to do something different. APA researchers state that we all need to be more reflexive in our field and start conversations about our tensions and successes, so that’s what I aimed to do with my Master’s research.”
Amanda interviewed APA professionals from across Alberta to explore their experiences of moral discomfort. Her research showed that not only is there commonalities in moral discomfort among APA practitioners, but also among professionals in nursing, recreation therapy, education, coaching and social work. With the goal of her master’s work to find ways to challenge APA professionals’ taken-for-granted practices, understand their assumptions and shift their ways of thinking, Amanda has been able to apply her research outcomes to her own experiences.
“The biggest application of my research to practice is that I now make very deliberate effort to notice the moments that trigger the feeling of ‘sand in my shorts’—feelings of moral discomfort. When I notice them, I spark conversations with my colleagues, and, most importantly, consistently check in with the community I’m working with to ensure their values and perspectives are included in my decision making.”
Her research has also filtered into her teaching. As an active graduate teaching assistant throughout her Master’s program, and as a current KSR sessional instructor, Amanda ensures that the undergraduate students she works with have a safe, judgement-free space to discuss uncertainties and successes when it comes to working in adapted physical activity settings.
“I strive to create spaces where students feel comfortable. I want them to develop expertise, not feel like they have to be the ‘experts’ straight away.”
Amanda’s almost thirteen-year journey with the University of Alberta will be capped off with her Masters of Arts in Adapted Physical Activity parchment paper on June 13th, but she has no plans of slowing down her pursuit of physical activity inclusiveness. Along with being a KSR sessional instructor, Amanda works at Equality Fitness and Recreation—an organization founded by KSR alumna Bobbi-Jo Atchison—and is involved with local and provincial physical activity committees including Solidance Inclusive Recreation Society, PLAY Great, and the Alberta Recreation and Parks Association’s Children and Youth Committee
As she gets set to graduate, Amanda reflects on her time at the University of Alberta, noting the key opportunities and individuals who have been catalysts for what is sure to be a long, successful career.
“Without a doubt, I have most enjoyed learning from and building relationships with so many amazing people, including the staff, families and students with the Steadward Centre, community professionals, and incredible professors, mentors and fellow students.”
“I had heard that graduate school could be an isolating time, but my experience was completely opposite. My fellow students in the Pat Austin Adapted Physical Activity lab became like family. Our countless hours of debate, discussion, detangling, encouragement and support still continue to push my thinking. I could not imagine grad school without each of them.”