Student Profile: Kelsey O'Brien explores equity and the student athlete experience

Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Kelsey O'Brien

Kelsey O'Brien is a first-year doctoral student in the Department of Education working with advisor Dr. Rebeca Mireles-Rios. 

GGSE: You have an MS in Sustainability, Culture, and Development Anthropology from Durham Univiersty and your BA from UCLA was in Geography--what led you to study Education now?

O'Brien: Both of my parents have worked in various positions in higher education my whole life. I also have many family members who are elementary and high school teachers, so I grew up running around on a college campus and surrounded by educators. I chose to study Geography and Anthropology because I really enjoy learning about how people and cultures interact with each other and learn from one another. Before coming to UCSB, I worked with first-year college student-athletes, supporting them with their transition to a university by developing studying, reading, and notetaking strategies and time management skills. Working with college level students led me to realize that I want to learn more about student development and work to improve both student experience and equity in education.

GGSE: What about the Gevirtz School made you decide to come study here?

O'Brien: I was drawn to the Gevirtz School by the opportunity to work and learn under my faculty advisor Rebeca Mireles Rios and all the other faculty members. I also really liked that I could be a part of the culture, language, and human development pathway which encompasses everything that I love learning about and hope to continue to research throughout my career.

GGSE: You have had quite a career as a student athlete in water polo. Are there lessons from that that inform what you do in your doctoral work?

O'Brien: My water polo career started when I was 11 and lasted until I was 24. I went from novice to professional and competed in multiple championships. After each success and failure, I learned a lot about myself and the processes that take place to reach a goal. I learned a lot about being a leader and (more importantly) about being a good teammate. I am excited to utilize all these experiences and skills while pursuing my education and research here at UCSB.

My interests in college student experience and development, and equity in education also began while I was an undergrad student-athlete. Being a student-athlete provided me with a lot of unique opportunities and experiences. I was able to get to know many other student-athletes from around the world and learn about their perspectives on school and sports. During my time as an undergrad student-athlete, I recognized that my experience differed greatly from many students of different demographics at UCLA. I am very grateful for my positive college experience and hope to help current undergrads have the same type of experience.

GGSE: As a native Santa Barbaran, what is your favorite place or two in town and why?

O'Brien: Two of my favorite places in Santa Barbara are the Ellwood Bluffs/Ellwood Beach and the Courthouse Sunken Gardens.

To get to the Ellwood Bluffs you need to walk through a really cool eucalyptus grove and during the Monarch butterfly migration it is full of butterflies! The bluffs have a lot of different walking paths to explore, and the views of the ocean are beautiful from up there. Ellwood Beach is always so peaceful and usually empty. It is a great place to enjoy the natural beauty of the Santa Barbara coast.

The Sunken Garden is in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara and is a great place to have a picnic, read a book, or just relax. During the summers (pre-covid) I love going there and watching the free movies as well.