For the past two years, the Central Valley has been home to Jeffrey Ruser as he worked towards his master’s degree in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Sport Psychology. In just a few days, he will be honored at Fresno State’s 107th University Commencement, representing the College of Health and Human Service as its Graduate Dean’s Medalist – and with an impressive 4.0 G.P.A. to show for it.
In the summer, he’ll return to the Midwest, where he’s originally from, to pursue his doctoral studies at Indiana University, but his fond memories at Fresno State will stay with him long after he’s left the Valley.
“These past two years have shaped me more than any other two-year span year in my life,” Ruser said. “Shaped in terms of me growing as a person, to really understand where my strengths are, who I am, what I’m most passionate about and really, gaining knowledge to become a professional in the field of Sport Psychology.”
While growing up in Schaumburg, Illinois, a suburb just northwest of Chicago, Ruser was active in sports, particularly basketball. During high school, he dealt with anxiety, which affected his performance as an athlete. This experience played a big role in what ultimately led to his passion for the field of Sport Psychology. He saw the burnout, anxiety and negativity that can personally affect performance for young student-athletes, which prompted him to take action.
Through his work, Ruser hopes to make an impact and improve the well-being and mental health of student-athletes at the collegiate and high school level. His caring nature was engrained in him at an early age and he credits his close-knit family for that.
“Growing up and seeing others in need and figuring out how I could help them, but also what I could learn from them, really had an impact on me,” Ruser said. “I knew I wanted to help people in some way and I think that is really rooted in my faith. I’m a Christian and that really defines who I am and I try to keep it at the center of all that I do.”
Ruser’s passion for student-athlete mental care, and his own experiences as a high school athlete, sparked his thesis project, titled, “Investigating student-athlete burnout through coach-athlete relationships and gratitude.” For his project, he researched the relationship between student-athletes’ perceptions of their relationship with their coach and their levels of gratitude and burnout.
“I wanted to do some follow up on it with coach-athlete relationships because I know my own relationships with coaches really affected me,” Ruser said. “Through my project, I measured student-athlete’s gratitude toward their sport and to life. I took a look at positive psychology – what can we do to prevent things before they happen and even more so, what makes a human flourish or have a great life?”
In a rather impressive feat, Ruser was able to obtain nearly 600 survey results from student-athletes in the NCAA, even though his initial goal was only to collect 125. Results from his work suggest strong coach-athlete relationships may increase overall athlete gratitude when it comes to life experiences.
His work was so compelling that faculty in the Department of Kinesiology encouraged him to submit his thesis for presentation at the annual conference of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, as well as the Central California Research Symposium. He will also co-author two manuscripts for a peer-reviewed journal based on his thesis. In addition to his scholarly activity, Ruser has also represented Fresno State at two state conferences on topics related to Sport Psychology.
His keen work ethic and expertise in his field earned him a number of recognitions and honors, including the “Outstanding Thesis Award” from the Department of Kinesiology’s Graduate Program, which was selected unanimously by graduate faculty within the department. He was also nominated for the Master’s Scholar Award by the American Kinesiology Association, due to his academic and leadership excellence, and strong promotion of the field of Kinesiology.
Among Ruser’s many other roles, was serving as a teaching associate for Kinesiology Activity Courses, which has allowed him to connect with over 300 Fresno State undergraduate students, including those in the Wayfinders program, which is designed for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Ruser counts his time with these students as one of his most rewarding teaching experiences.
Ruser is not only a student the Kinesiology Department, but also gives back his time toward the program, where he served as the graduate assistant for the Kinesiology Graduate Program, under the direction of Graduate Coordinator and his mentor, Dr. Jenelle Gilbert.
“In all my years of teaching and mentoring graduate students, I honestly believe Mr. Ruser is my absolute top student,” Gilbert said. “He challenges his students, peers, instructors, and myself, to be better each and every day.”
Ruser said the feeling is mutual, crediting the faculty of the department for their willingness to invest in his talents. Outside of campus, Ruser lends his time as an applied sport psychology consultant, teaching important skills, such as goal setting and positive self-talk, as part of his curriculum, which attracts Fresno State student-athletes and high school students from throughout the Central Valley.
An individual he has worked closely with is a 14-year-old elite junior golfer, who has competed at the national and international level. Through Ruser’s weekly sessions that focused on mental strategy and skills, the adolescent athlete was able to utilize the tools given to him to improve his development, on and off the field – which also led to a championship world title. Ruser said experiences like that make it all worth it.
“After his mom called me with the news he won the world title, I remembered feeling so happy for him and just getting goosebumps, knowing that what I was doing wasn’t going in one ear and out the other,” Ruser said. “It definitely validates the content I’m learning and research work I’m doing.”
At Indiana University, Ruser will pursue his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a minor in Sport Psychology. As a doctoral student, he plans to continue his research in applied sport psychology and collegiate student-athlete mental health care, saying, “I don’t want to stop here. I’d like to continue doing what I’m doing and make a difference.”
Ruser’s future career goals include serving as a director of sport psychology at a major university, which will put him in a position to impact the lives of countless student-athletes. Even as he prepares to leave the Valley, he does so with fond memories of the campus and community.
“Before I came here, I didn’t know a ton about California or its different regions, but there is something distinct about Fresno State,” Ruser said. “It really epitomizes the Central Valley. People here are hard working, genuine and making a big impact where they can. Every person I’ve interacted with has genuinely cared about me as a student and person. It makes me proud to be a bulldog.”
Jeffrey Ruser is a candidate for the prestigious California State University, Fresno University Graduate Medal, which is the highest honor the University presents to a graduate student. The University Graduate Medalist is selected from the nine graduate Dean’s Medalists who represent the academic colleges and schools and the Division of Student Affairs. The awardee will be announced at the University Commencement on May 19, 2018.