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ODU Psychology Researchers Help Skydiving Veterans Transition into Civilian Life

By Noell Saunders

A team of Old Dominion University researchers is assisting Combat Wounded Coalition, a nonprofit organization, in developing a two-week leadership training program to help service members transition successfully into civilian life.

Konstantin Cigularov, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and the project's principal investigator; Michelle Kelley, professor, Eminent Scholar and chair of psychology, and five doctoral students are working on training assessments with the organization.

"The motivation to do this is really the need and opportunity to help these service members," Cigularov said. "We want to help a vulnerable population that can benefit from our services and efforts while making a societal impact."

The ODU research team recently attended "Jumping for a Purpose," Combat Wounded Coalition's annual skydiving event, at Skydive Suffolk, where they met with coalition staff and members. The group held focus groups and conducted interviews with service members while they skydived.

"At Skydive Suffolk we care very deeply about our community and jumped at this opportunity to partner with the Combat Wounded Coalition in providing assistance to help wounded veterans through the ODU project," said Laura Manthey, the owner of Skydive Suffolk. "Our skydiving instructors are extremely adept at helping people overcome fear, and we are honored to have the opportunity to help the men and women who serve our country."

The collaborative initiative with ODU is called Overcome Academy. It provides a targeted curriculum to train wounded service members in leadership, resiliency and other skills while supporting physical fitness, nutrition and engagement in civilian and youth mentorship.

Phil Dillulio, the student project leader, said he enjoys connecting with outside organizations to help give back to the community.

"Our current partnership with the Combat Wounded Coalition is another example of how Dr. Cigularov goes above and beyond course requirements to provide students with a valuable opportunity to take what is learned in class and use it in practice," Dillulio said. "It's the most meaningful work I have ever been a part of."

Kenneth Miller, Combat Wounded Coalition's chief operating officer, added that the organization wants to increase the percentage of the country's veterans and wounded service members who are advancing in the workforce.

"Combat Wounded Coalition wants to teach warriors to lead themselves so they will then go out and lead others both in the workplace and the communities they live in," he said.

Cigularov and his students aim to identify critical competencies that can help wounded service members succeed during the fall semester. Results from the research will help develop the Overcome Academy in the spring. Cigularov seeks to engage students in community-service-oriented, applied research projects in all of his courses in the industrial-organizational psychology Ph.D. program.

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