Katy O'Brien had already worked with young TBI victims--war veterans who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan--when she met Professor Mary Kennedy at a national conference. It was 2007, and Kennedy was just beginning to develop a program for students with TBI returning to college.
The concept fascinated O'Brien, then a master's student in speech pathology at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. "I latched onto this idea that many people with brain injuries are young and they have a lot of life left," she says. "There are many things they want to do."
So she followed Kennedy to CLA, and now works with her on research that could someday help vets with TBI as they reenter the university. "It's a population that often has complicating issues--like post-traumatic stress disorder--but also has a great need for assistance with executive function," she says.
O'Brien says she was drawn to Kennedy, who started out as a hospital speech pathologist, in part for her clinical experience. "She knows what students are going through. She thinks about their life outside of being a patient."
A Leslie E. Glaze Fellowship has allowed O'Brien to conduct a three-year summer research project involving students with TBI, and undergrads from CLA have volunteered untold hours assisting her. "I'm really impressed with undergrad involvement here," she says. Now two years away from finishing her Ph.D, O'Brien says she's delighted with her decision to choose Minnesota for her doctoral work. "There's so much research to be done, so many ways to help these communities."