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Sergeant Laura O’Malley is a doctoral student in education, specializing in school psychology. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Temple University and her master’s degree in school psychology from Millersville University. She joined the U.S. Army Reserve in June 2018 and currently serves within the 254th Quartermaster Company in York, Pa. In the civilian world, she has worked as a school psychologist for seven years, serving students and families primarily in low-income, urban school districts in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Laura O’Malley

What made you choose UNC-Chapel Hill when deciding on a program/place to study?
When I was in high school in Pennsylvania, UNC-Chapel Hill was my dream school. I had a Carolina blue T-shirt with the UNC logo that I wore to soccer practice weekly. Ever the realist, I decided that out-of-state tuition at UNC wasn’t the financially responsible decision. While in my undergraduate program, I was given some sage advice that I’ve never forgotten: When it comes time to do a dissertation, try to leave your comfort zone and support system, which will provide even more motivation to get it done and have the freedom to decide where to go next. UNC checked that box and is well-respected for its school psychology doctoral program. I’m excited that my dream school has come full circle!

Tell us about your research.
I am still in my first year, so I haven’t started formal research yet. I am interested in researching the effects of the recent rapid deployment of the 82nd Airborne Division on school-aged children. This type of deployment was historic, in that a similar activation hasn’t occurred since 2010 when some of the Division was deployed to assist after the earthquake in Haiti. I am interested in comparing parent perceptions of student behavior amongst families who experienced this rapid deployment in comparison with a planned deployment.

What is an important lesson that you learned in the military that has helped you in graduate school?
I have learned a lot in the short time since I joined the military. As someone who likes order and organization, I have learned to be significantly more flexible. The mission can change at a moment’s notice, and it’s crucial to be able to react and adapt to whatever is thrown at us. I have learned to be flexible in my communication style, my working pace, and my leadership style to meet the needs of my team and the task at hand, and it has helped me in other areas of my life as well.

What are you hoping to accomplish with your Carolina degree?
I am interested in working with the military in some capacity, though I haven’t yet landed on how I’d like to do that. I have considered active-duty service, advocacy work, and working with military students as a civilian while continuing my reserve service. One of the most valuable things about the degree from UNC is that it will provide me options and open doors, which allow me flexibility and options!

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