Assisting others has always been important to Justus White.
But it was an autobiography of a well-known athlete that first helped the Saint John’s University junior see how that trait might be harnessed into a future career.
“I’ve always been interested in helping others and I’ve always had an interest in psychology,” White said. “But during my junior year in high school (at Park of Cottage Grove), I decided I wanted to be a sports psychologist. I’ve always been a big fan of gymnastics and I read (Olympic gymnast) Simone Biles’ autobiography. She wrote about how she’d used sports psychologists to help with her performance.
“That opened up a whole new world for me to explore.”
After spending two seasons on the track-and-field team at Division II Tiffin University in Ohio, White wanted to return to Minnesota. So he transferred to SJU prior to the start of the fall semester in 2021.
Since arriving in Collegeville, he’s continued to work toward his future career goal – majoring in psychology with minors in exercise and health science and gender studies.
He also recently had the chance to network with others in the intercollegiate athletic world when he was selected as one of 40 students from a pool of hundreds nationwide to be part of the Division III Student-Immersion Program.
That meant he was able to join SJU athletic director Bob Alpers and Nicci Malecha, assistant athletic director for events and facilities/director of recreation/senior woman administrator, at the recent NCAA Convention held Jan. 11-14 in San Antonio.
It marked the first time the event had been held fully in-person since before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and the experience provided White with an up-close look at how college athletics are administered.
“I had the chance to talk with so many different athletic directors, people who work for the NCAA and other college athletes,” said White, who ran track-and-field for the Johnnies last season but is not planning on doing so this year. “I was able to witness the MIAC representatives voting on various issues that had come up in the issues forum. I attended a lot of different sessions and did a lot of networking. I even received guidance from several mentors who welcomed me to reach out (if there was) anything they can do to assist me in my pursuit of a career in the sports field one day.
“It’s an honor I’m grateful to have – coming from people who work in the field already and who have been through the process needed to get to their current positions,” he continued. “That opportunity to learn from their personal, first-hand experience is not something that can be artificially replicated.”
That’s the kind of opportunity Malecha said attending the convention is meant to provide.
“Any time we can take a student to one of these conventions, it exposes them to a lot of great career opportunities,” Malecha said. “It gives them the chance to meet with professionals and other students interested in a career in athletics. They learn more about how the NCAA works and I think it provides them with a real glimpse of what it’s like to work in a professional setting in a career involving sports.”
White – who identifies as part of the LGBTQ community – said the experience also reassured him careers in sports can be inclusive and open to all.
“For me specifically, that was the biggest takeaway,” said White, who plans to take a year off after graduating in the spring of 2024 and work for a nonprofit before eventually attending graduate school.
“The validation I received from my peers for my authentic self-identity allowed me to make so many genuine connections. To see people appreciate and respect me for who I am was a really big deal. I hope that my presence within the athletic community - whether it be on or off the field - can be a form of representation for others like myself to know that times are changing. It is not only possible, but encouraged to participate in athletics while still being authentic to you, and you will still be received with open arms.”
Justus White, fourth from left, poses with other students who participated in the Division III Student-Immersion Program at the NCAA Convention in January. On White's left is CBS broadcaster Jim Nance.