The victories Frostburg’s football team enjoyed in the 1970s did more than just raise school spirit – they also helped raise team members’ awareness of how to be successful long after the last touchdown.
Frostburg football alumnus Col. Donald J. White ’75 is a classic example of how a strong foundation in sports led to a big win in life after college. Col. White, who lettered in football and wrestling and looms large in Frostburg’s memory as one of its greatest linebackers, translated the insight he gained from college athletics into an awe-inspiring career in aerospace and operational physiology.
“In team sports, the number one thing you have to understand is your own personal boundaries and how those boundaries fit into an organizational structure,” Col. White said. “The lessons I learned from playing football and wrestling provided the foundation for that understanding. It has continued since I left Frostburg by helping me with jobs I’ve had. I’ve applied those lessons learned, and built on those lessons learned.”
Following his bachelor’s degree in health, physical education and recreation from FSU and a master’s in physical education through Kent State University’s Applied Physiology Research Laboratory in 1978, Col. White went on to apply his knowledge of team dynamics, performance management, organizational leadership and health and wellness to a variety of increasingly high-level positions as a civilian and in the U.S. Air Force. His work has included everything from being an Air Force test parachutist to running the fighter aircrew acceleration training program, cockpit and crew integration program and experimental life support in the Air Force’s Armstrong Laboratory. He has also served as the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine’s director of education and training in the Department of Aerospace Physiology.
Studying thermal regulation, altitude risks, situational awareness, cognitive performance and other factors that apply to high-stress non-routine environments of aerospace, surface and undersea has been important throughout much of Col. White’s career. In 2003, he was asked to be part of the Presidential Commission for the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.
“I was responsible for investigating the aircrew survivability components and looking at organizational causes of the accident,” he said. “It was probably one of the most professionally rewarding experiences I’ve had so far in my career.”
Today, Col. White is the director of Research, Development and Innovation in the Air Force’s Office of the Assistant Surgeon General for Modernization. He manages a research development and innovation portfolio that includes intramural, extramural and congressionally funded programs. These programs shape Air Force medicine and include force health protection, operational and expeditionary medicine, en route care and human performance. Col. White is currently appointed as an adjunct faculty member, USAF School of Aerospace Medicine and adjunct assistant professor of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. And he hasn’t forgotten the rewarding experiences he had years ago at FSU. He serves on the FSU Alumni Association’s Board of Directors and was inducted into FSU’s Hall of Fame in 1992. He’s quick to acknowledge how much he loved going to school at Frostburg.
“I think the education I received was outstanding. I respected the various professors, teachers … and they respected the students,” he said.
Col. White also made some lasting friendships with “truly outstanding people both on the academic and the athletics side.” He lists the late Dr. Harold J. Cordts, a long-time professor and former head of FSU’s Department of Health & Physical Education, former track and field coach Bob Lewis, former FSU baseball coach Bob Wells, former FSU football coaches Mike Davis and Jim Crawley, and Crawley’s wife, Nancy, a professor in health and physical education, among many treasured faculty, friends and mentors he found at Frostburg over the years.
“You could talk to most of the academic instructors in a personal way; they would receive you as a student and listen to what you have to say and sometimes redirect you, re-vector you. A lot of students have a lot of thrust, but no vector,” he said.
In addition to his professional interest in physiology, Col. White is also interested in – and increasingly alarmed by – how unhealthy young people are, and the way this affects their performance and overall long-term success as individuals.
“We have an epidemic of obesity and diabetes. We have a large population of our younger folks who are tied to their computers; they’re buried into the web-centric communication of life,” he said. “I read recently somewhere that 30 percent of young people believe anything they read on the Internet as true – they’re plugged in non-stop. That increases lack of physical activity. I’m not suggesting everyone eat bark and bean sprouts, but to have a better awareness of their individual capabilities – the psychological as well as the physical.”
Col. White and his wife, Dr. Janet Wasson, a general surgeon at Anne Arundel Medical Center, decided to make an investment that would support a healthier, more successful student population at FSU. Together, they established the Col. Donald J. White and Dr. Janet L. Wasson Wellness Pass-Through Fund, which funds all areas of need for FSU’s Human Performance Laboratory, including research and activities that encourage wellness and healthy lifestyle choices. The fund also provides resources that complement and enhance existing wellness initiatives, such as Frostburg’s Creating Healthy, Informed Lasting Lifestyles (CHILL), a wellness program for students at Frostburg.
“My wife and I put this idea together that integrates two departments that I think need to be attached at the hip – the Department of Health & Physical Education and the Department of Athletics,” Col. White said. “It creates a subject pool for the Human Performance Laboratory that will help FSU gather data about the performance capabilities of the student-athletes and help them perform better. I think it’s a good synergy.”
Dr. Art Siemann, chair of FSU’s Health & P.E. Department, agrees.
“Because of the White and Wasson Fund, we have been working much closer with the Department of Athletics to provide accurate, clinical-quality assessments of a variety of human performance parameters,” he said. “The results of these assessments are being used to improve the quality of training programs being developed for all of our athletes here at FSU. Students in our Athletic Training and Exercise & Sport Science program are also gaining valuable experiential training as they observe and conduct the assessment work with our student-athletes. The rest of the student body is also benefitting from the training these students receive. We are extending the assessment services and exercise program design to all students participating in the CHILL program. Our goal of graduating healthier students is succeeding.”
The FSU Foundation’s $15 million comprehensive campaign, Staking Our Claim: The Campaign for Frostburg, is raising badly needed funding for higher education in Western Maryland. Gifts support student enrichment, academic enrichment and regional and cultural enrichment. For more information about supporting FSU and the Col. Donald J. White and Dr. Janet L. Wasson Wellness Pass-Through Fund, visit www.frostburg.edu/admin/foundation or call 301-687-4161.
Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions and two regional higher education centers within the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit www.frostburg.edu or facebook.com/frostburgstateuniversity.