Nov. 2, 2021

Class of 2021: 5 questions with Ash Kolstad

The Master of Science graduate shares how being forced to work remotely created an opportunity, and why bringing an extension cord to a football game is just one of many lessons he’s learned
Ash Kolstad
Ash Kolstad

This is part of series of articles where we asked the fall cohort of the class of 2021 to reflect on their time at the university and share what they learned and loved about their time here. For more student responses, visit Congratulations, Class of 2021.

Ash Kolstad graduated with a Master of Science in sports medicine in fall 2021, after previously receiving a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in kinesiology here in 2019. He took a few minutes to answer our questions about his time at the University of Calgary. 

What advice would you give yourself on your first day of your master’s degree?  

Roll with the punches and don’t be afraid of the unknowns. There are going to be lots of ups and downs throughout your degree, and lots of uncontrollable and controllable things that happen — and that’s a fundamental and important part of graduate school. Little did I know that these uncertainties are where I learned the most about being able to adapt and problem-solve under pressure and use my experience to educate my peers.  

An example of a learning moment that I will always remember from the early days of my degree was when we were filming youth football for a study quantifying head-contact rates for players. Little did I know that, when the temperature was below -10°C, the camera batteries died quicker than the indicator showed. I remember the frantic panic and scrambling at the game’s half-time to find a power outlet, but, luckily, we were able to successfully film the rest of the game and made sure an extension cord was brought for the next game. I learned a lot through my graduate degree. Being able to hope for the best, but plan for the worst, is a skill that you can never practise enough.   

Is there a project, discovery or moment from your time at the university that you are most proud of?   

One of the main questions from my original proposed master’s thesis was examining if proper helmet fit was protective against getting a concussion in youth sports like football and ice hockey. The plan was to collect the data in-person. Then COVID-19 hit. Everyone was online and uncertain of what was going to happen. Sports were cancelled and most research projects (including my own) were halted. It was an unsettling feeling not knowing what was going to happen. But, within a few weeks, at my weekly meeting with my supervisors, we came up with an idea. Do we actually need to be in-person to assess helmet fit? Can we simply log onto a password-secured Zoom meeting and complete the assessment?  

After this meeting, the utility of this idea skyrocketed in my mind. No longer would persons in remote areas not have access to have their helmet fit assessed. This could even allow for monitoring throughout the season by a team trainer, without having to have players show up hours before a practice or game. Anyone could complete these assessments at any place at any time, as long as they had a device with a camera and the Zoom application.  

I am very proud of this idea because, when we were faced with the unknown, we successfully adapted my project to a simple idea that could have a major impact for sports organizations in the future.  

Tell us about one person who supported you through your studies and powered you along the way.  

It's hard to narrow down to a single person with the tremendous support from my family, peers and colleagues throughout my degree. I will say that my supervisors, Dr. Carolyn Emery and Dr. Brent Hagel, were always there to motivate me. I can't explain it, but there is something about our weekly meetings that I always find motivating and left me wanting to achieve more. There is something exciting about seeing them as well-respected and successful researchers in this field and knowing that they were right where I am, completing their MSc degrees at UCalgary. I owe a lot of my successes to their mentorship and admire them for always ensuring that I feel supported through the pandemic.  

What is your favourite physical space on campus? When you come back to visit in years to come, where will you make sure to stop by?     

The Kinesiology complex. You have the long hallway walk from the Olympic Oval with the trophy case on one side and the windows looking into the Jack Simpson Gymnasium on the other. That leads up to the Kinesiology atrium that houses the big bright-red staircase with the jungle gym-like seating area. Being around this complex just has a nostalgic feeling to it, built with memories from rushing to the anatomy lab in my first year of undergrad, to sitting and joking around in the summer with the kids who were part of the adapted physical activity camp. I look forward to seeing the changes to this complex for years to come.  

Now what? What’s your next big move?     

I have started my PhD at the University of Calgary, continuing with the Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre, focused on sports medicine with plans to continue on to medical school. My interests include examining how we can prevent sports-related concussions and other injuries for players. My career aspirations are to become a clinical scientist so I can treat patients and integrate their questions and experiences into a research program with the goal of lowering the high injury burden for Canadians. 


Congratulations, Class of 2021

Read more Q-and-As from fall 2021 graduates.