Balancing Act: Penn State gymnast seeks education degree

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Champion gymnasts are nothing if not resilient.

If they fall off the balance beam during a routine, they hop back on and finish it.

If they don’t quite stick the landing on the dismount after an uneven bars routine, they practice it until they do.

That’s why when Kassidy Stauder couldn’t quite master the concepts of Math 200 the first time, she took it again and passed it. She then went on to become an Academic All-American and make the dean’s list for the last four semesters.

Stauder is an All-American gymnast for Penn State, and a senior childhood and early adolescent education major in in the College of Education.

Quit isn’t in her vocabulary.

“It’s effort, it’s work ethic, it’s a desire to make great grades and represent herself, her family and her team in the best way possible,” Penn State women’s gymnastics coach Jeff Thompson said.

Like all great gymnasts, when Stauder wants something, she sets to work to get it, including her education degree.

If you scan the rosters of most of the Top 20 gymnastics programs in the country, you won’t see many, if any, education majors. Student teaching mixes with gymnastics training like oil mixes with water.

“I know at a lot of other institutions, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. I either would have had to give up my dream of gymnastics or give up my dream of working with kids,” Stauder said.

“But, at Penn State, I’m able to have it all, to have both dreams. There aren’t a lot of gymnasts out there that are education majors because it usually doesn’t work. Penn State made it work for me. I can’t be thankful enough for that.”

There was a time when Stauder questioned whether she would attain either dream.

Growing up in Palmerton, Pa., Stauder was home-schooled. Her transition from that controlled environment to the University Park campus wasn’t seamless.

“I had an interesting time trying to figure out the whole school/gymnastics thing. I was home-schooled from sixth through 11th grades, so I wasn’t really sure what school was all about. I went to school my senior year of high school, but senior year is pretty easy, and I had a lot of help,” she said. “After freshman year (at Penn State) I realized I needed a lot of help to figure this out.”

Stauder enlisted the help of not only the Morgan Academic Support Center for Student-Athletes but also the College of Education Academic Advising Office and one adviser in particular.

“I really tried to utilize our academic advisers and the advisers in Education. I had Dr. (Catherine) Augustine. She has just been wonderful. We’ve worked together to figure some things out that have been difficult, balancing gymnastics and education,” she said.

“I had to spread out my education program a little bit because I couldn’t student teach and do gymnastics at the same time. I had to take some extra classes so I will have an education major, with a pre-kindergarten-fourth-grade (PK-4) option, and three minors: human development and family studies, special education, and deafness and hearing.”

Thompson said that, in his opinion, she’s nailed her career goal.

“She wants to be a kindergarten teacher. I think she’d be perfect for that,” he said. “She’s been the team mom for the last three years. She’s the leader in all of our community service efforts. She’s the one who comes up with all the ideas. She puts all of the logistics together.”

Stauder’s studies have given her the opportunity to work with children in the Bennett Family Center and the Child Care Center at Hort Woods, both child care centers on the Penn State campus.

“I love watching kids develop and grow. From the little ones that are learning how to walk, to ones who are a little bit older and learning how to put sentences together to get their point across, I think they’re incredible. I think it’s an incredible thing to be a part of. I learn so much from those kids, probably more than I even teach them,” she said.

“Another reason I wanted to be at the day care is I think it’s really important for me to understand their development up until they get to kindergarten or first grade, to learn how kids develop differently. I think watching that at a younger age is perfect to prepare me to work with a little bit older kids.”

In order to complete her degree, Stauder is taking advantage of her scholarship, which gives her a five-year academic window to complete four years of competition. She will finish her gymnastics career this spring, undertake the Discipline Inquiry Block of her degree in the fall and then student teach in spring 2015.

Stauder finished her gymnastics career April 18-20 in Birmingham, Ala., at the NCAA Championships.

Penn State finished 12th overall. It was ranked No. 15 to end the season and became the first team ranked outside the Top 12 to ever advance to the NCAA Championships, the first time the Nittany Lions had done that since 2009. Stauder tied for the team high on uneven bars with a 9.75.

Stauder said helping Penn State earn that bid to the NCAA Championships, April 5 at Rec Hall, is one of her favorite college memories.

“That memory will stick with me for the rest of my life. That just entailed everything that we have been working so hard for as a team and also the person I’ve become now with the help of my coaches and through the help of the Education program,” she said.

Last Updated April 28, 2014