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Undergraduate student impresses with three majors, but dedicates herself to much more

March 14, 2022

Undergraduate student impresses with three majors, but dedicates herself to much more

Emily Nothnagle playing the flute

When Emily Nothnagle set foot on Ohio State’s campus, she couldn’t have predicted the winding path she’d end up on.

Nothnagle isn’t just a triple-major in music, anthropology and psychology. She’s an NCAA national champion in pistol, a dedicated volunteer, an accomplished flutist and a devoted mental health and wellness advocate. Her diverse passions are rooted in her personality, but they materialized thanks to the wealth of resources, opportunities and experiences in the College of Arts and Sciences.

At Hershey High School in Pennsylvania, Nothnagle had always been involved in music — starring as drum major in the marching band, playing in jazz band, performing in pit orchestra for musicals and singing in choir. As a senior, her experience conducting younger students at band practice and observing her former middle school band director inspired her to become a music director and major in music education.

Emily Nothnagle pointing her pistol
Nothnagle was also a competitive pistol athlete, and Ohio State’s stellar pistol program lured her to Columbus, where she helped lead the Buckeyes to NCAA championships in 2018 and 2021. 

“I really felt lucky to be recruited for a great program that offered me an athletic scholarship,” Nothnagle said. "But also I was grateful for the opportunity to continue to compete at a high level in pistol. … Competing at a university like Ohio State is a really special experience. I want to hold on to that for as long as possible because after graduation it’s never going to be quite the same.”

Though Nothnagle’s athletic scholarship helped her focus on classes and extracurricular activities, her first few semesters were demanding. She was eager to join the School of Music’s community as a music education major and avid flutist, playing with the Flute Troupe and Symphonic Band, practicing solo pieces and collaborating with peers outside of elaborate performances. She was also balancing her athletic commitments on the pistol team. Between handling various instruments and firearms, Nothnagle realized too late that she had been putting too much strain on her hands. 

That eventually led to hand surgery at the end of Nothnagle’s second academic year. 

“It took a while to figure out exactly what was wrong,” she said. “We wanted to make sure we exhausted every possibility before we jumped to surgery.”

In the months leading up to her surgery, Nothnagle couldn’t continue playing the instruments required to stay on track with the music education curricula, so she switched her major to music. This initial change in her academic path led to more critical decisions that opened doors to new avenues to explore at Ohio State. 

Nothnagle had already been inspired by her General Education courses to minor in psychology and anthropology, but her newfound flexibility as a music major compelled her to add psychology as a second major. She also discovered she could get the most out of her college experience and NCAA scholarship benefits if she enrolled for a fifth year to continue competing on the pistol team and expand on her studies. With her graduation set for spring 2022, she turned anthropology into her third major while also declaring minors in social and environmental issues and history.

Emily Nothnagle on a flight of colorful stairs in Escadaria Selarón in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
As an Honors and Scholars music student, Nothnagle had to write an undergraduate thesis but needed more direction for her research and someone to ask for advice. She was interested in writing about sports, and Nicholas Kawa, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, connected her with Chris Knoester, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology. Knoester, whose research centers on sports in society, became her undergraduate thesis research advisor and a great mentor. 

“He’s provided me with a lot of guidance and opportunities, which is extra special because I never took one of his classes so he kind of took a leap of faith with me,” Nothnagle said.

Her resulting thesis on developing “grit” through sport participation was featured and recognized at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum and the Sports and Society Initiative Undergraduate Research Fair. Nothnagle will also present at the 2022 North American Society for the Sociology of Sport Conference in April.

“I’m really passionate about continuing to do research and moving that forward, and even making academia as a whole accessible to more people,” she said.

Nothnagle contributes to that personal goal by volunteering with the Ohio State Anthropology Public Outreach Program (APOP), which shares ideas, knowledge and experience about humanity, why we’re here and what makes us who we are with the general public in Columbus. APOP has an educational cart that travels to the Center of Science and Industry (COSI), public libraries and other education spaces in the community. 

Nothnagle has also had fun engaging in activities that enhance her education and give her a larger purpose. She created Buckeye State of Mind, a mental health summit geared toward helping student-athletes with mental health concerns, with the Peer Educators in 2019. Since then, the programming has evolved but stays true to providing necessary resources and combating the stigma against athletes asking for emotional support. This topic came from a personal place for many student-athletes in the Peer Educators group who recognized that mental health support isn’t as prevalent for athletes as access to dieticians and strength coaches.

“There’s a little bit of impostor syndrome that I’ve been navigating over the years,” Nothnagle said. “Being part of such an elite team here is tough. You put in a lot of work and sometimes that’s awesome and you get great results. But everyone shoots bad matches too, and that’s when it gets hard to remind yourself that, yeah, I belong here. I have friends that support me. My teammates want me here.”

Emily Nothnagle showing off her college rings
Nothnagle has had time to experience pitfalls and recover from mistakes during her years as an undergraduate student. She urges students seeking multiple degrees to think ahead and plan meticulously for the future. She has consistently worked on developing better time-management skills, but having a detailed outline of classes to take in order to meet all university requirements was irreplaceable.

“The toughest lesson I learned at Ohio State was how to ask for help,” she said. “I’m a pretty independent person, and all my life I could always do it by myself. So coming to Ohio State and taking on this crazy schedule — going to team workouts and practicing my flute and practicing shooting — it got to be pretty overwhelming for a bit. Asking for help opened the doors for more collaboration with people and exposure to new ideas and also just learning to take the load off because you don’t always need to do it all yourself.”

Nothnagle hasn’t yet decided where she’ll end up after graduating. Within the next year, she could be in Kenya teaching English as a second language as part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program she’s a semifinalist for, or conducting more research on the diversity of the human experience in Columbus while applying to PhD programs. Whatever the future holds, she’s prepared for it thanks to her time at Ohio State. 

“Ohio State’s really the only place that I feel like I could have done so much,” Nothnagle said. “There were definitely a couple people who thought I was crazy when I said I wanted to do three degrees but, for the most part, any professor or advisor who I talked to were like, ‘OK, let’s see what we need to do to make that happen.’ The support that I've had here is pretty ridiculous. There are so many resources available — it’s just learning how to use them. I feel really appreciative that those resources have been and continue to be available to me.”

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