From her hometown of Shamokin, Pennsylvania, Cierra Eby (’23) saw the need for sports psychology firsthand. After tearing both ACLs and undergoing back surgery due to scoliosis, Eby completed physical therapy. She soon realized there was no one to talk to about the mental aspect of healing from injury. Having worked with college-level track and softball athletes, Eby – whose sister is also in the Air Force – recently began working at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas. While the military is “still learning how to deal with mental health,” Eby wants “to destigmatize seeking help.” Her goal in treatment is “…to help people do things better, not diagnose or fix. I don’t care if you cry or breakdown; that doesn’t mean you’re a weak person.”
What made you choose UWS over other schools and/or how did your degree from UWS prepare you for your current role as a Cognitive Performance Specialist for student pilots and instructor pilots at Laughlin AFB?
I chose UWS because I enjoyed how the online layout was made. It made it easy to have a full-time job while attending graduate school. I also really liked the diverse backgrounds and teaching styles my professors had so I could pull from many different experiences. My degree from UWS has allowed me to use the materials I have made and update them at my current job as I gain experience, learn from my peers and students and learn more about how I like to apply sport and performance psychology in a military setting.
What joys and challenges have surprised you in your position?
Even though I have only been at my present job for 3 months, I have had so many joys! I will be flying in all 3 aircrafts on base soon to help me better understand the cognitive piece of the puzzle while students and instructors fly. I have also been able to practice simulation flights and learn alongside the students as they go through academics. I did not realize how much I would enjoy learning about the different aircraft and everything that goes into flying! I absolutely love going to my job every day, as there is something new waiting for me. I love connecting with the student and instructor pilots and seeing them grow over the course of their training. Some challenges that I have been surprised by are how it can be a bit difficult to find research on some mental performance topics within the Air Force pilot sector. I have been pulling research from other elite populations and have needed to find a way to transfer the information to make it relative to this specific population. Another challenge I have faced that is not too surprising is the lack of knowledge and understanding of the sport and performance field alongside the “need” for the students to use me and my coworkers as a resource. Breaking the barriers of the stigmatism of sport psychology one day at a time! It has been working and I am excited to see where it goes.
What does a typical workday look like for you now?
Each day can be different, but during a typical day, I will have some one-on-one sessions with students, have quick 15–30-minute sessions in different flight rooms, walk around the flight rooms to check in on students and instructors, do cognitive skills in the gym with the students and instructors as they workout with the strength and conditioning coaches, do SENAPTEC and cross-check/task saturation training and build PowerPoints, activities, handouts, etc. as resources for everybody as well. I also study with some of the students and go to the SIM building with them to practice simulation flights and check in with the simulation instructors to see how the students are progressing.
Eby’s advice for recent alumni:
“If there is an opportunity take it. Be open to different opportunities.” Eby also advises taking care of your own wellness through the same recommendations you may give your patients. She recently started working with a nutritionist. Focusing on wellness also means your own wellness, so remember to drink water, get sleep, and name one at least one thing you are grateful for while doing do self-reflection.