Kristen Schleich has been an athlete her entire life.

She played soccer throughout middle and high school and was a two-year member of her high school’s varsity tennis team. Even though she’s not on a varsity UNCG sports team, she’s continued to pursue her interest in athletics through intramurals.

These days, however, the kinesiology major spends just as much time on the sidelines researching those on the field as she does competing herself. She’s the only undergraduate student on UNCG’s concussion research team, which is researching how concussions affect women differently than men.

But the Department of Kinesiology isn’t what drew Schleich to UNCG.

“I originally started my freshman year in the interior architecture program,” she said. “It’s one of the best on the East Coast.”

As she settled in on campus, Schleich quickly fell in love with UNCG thanks to the dedicated faculty and staff who support and encourage their students. As her freshman year progressed, however, she realized she wanted to study something more people-oriented.

“I wanted to do something where I was being active and involved,” she said, adding that while she’s artistic and creative, she’s also very athletic. Changing her major to kinesiology made perfect sense.

Schleich has worked for the YMCA as an after school and summer camp counselor since her junior year of high school.

“Seeing the joy that physical activity and playing brings a child just brings me joy,” she said, adding that it breaks her heart when she sees children who can’t participate because of a physical disability.

“That really influenced my decision to pursue kinesiology,” she said.

Many of her friends are either athletes or in the kinesiology program, and they encouraged her to apply as well.

“The kinesiology department is so close-knit,” Schleich said. “It’s given me opportunities as an undergrad that I would have never thought possible.”

One of those opportunities is working in the university’s VEAR lab (Virtual Environment for Assessment and Rehabilitation). Another was the chance to study kinesiology and outdoor education at University of Wales Trinity Saint David for a semester.

But she’s most proud of her work with UNCG’s concussion research team, which is partnering with the Independent Women’s Football League to study the impact of concussions on women.

“Football for women is a growing trend,” Schleich said. “One of the issues with that is we’re finding that men and women experience concussions differently.”

Right now, when a woman suffers a concussion, she’s held to the same standards for rehabilitation and recovery as a man before returning to play. But the concussion research team has found that women have different baselines for physical, emotional and cognitive ability.”

Schleich and the rest of the research team are working to develop guidelines for the best rehabilitation methods and return to play standards for women.

The research is far from over. Although Schleich is graduating on Dec. 10 with full honors from the Lloyd International Honors College, she’ll be back in January as a master’s student.

“I’m going to be working on this throughout my entire master’s,” she said.

Ultimately, Schleich would like to work in the medical field and is considering a career in pediatric physical therapy.

Follow the conversation about December Commencement on social media by searching #uncggrad on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

 

Story by Jeanie Groh, University Relations
Photography by Alycee Byrd, Photography Intern, University Relations