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ODU Psychology Department Wins Award for Work with Wounded Warriors

By Betsy Hnath

Members of Old Dominion University's psychology department recently received a Combat Wounded Coalition (CWC) 2018 Hero Within award for their help developing CWC's Overcome Academy.

The Overcome Academy is an intensive two-week program designed to help combat-wounded veterans transition to civilian life.

CWC founder Jason "Jay" Redman, a former Navy SEAL officer and Old Dominion graduate, was wounded in action. He began the CWC to support other wounded warriors across the country.

The CWC gives out four Hero Within awards annually. Reman said he had "no doubt in his mind" that ODU would receive one this year.

"The award is for organizations or individuals that have made a substantial impact to our wounded warriors," Redman said. "ODU's psychology department was my first and only choice for our organization Hero Within award for their work on Overcome Academy."

Redman created the Overcome Academy when he saw young combat-wounded veterans struggling to find their next "mission" as civilians. He envisioned an intensive program that taught leadership, purpose, resiliency, communication, nutrition and physical fitness. What Redman lacked was the background to create the course structure.

He approached James Shaeffer, Old Dominion University's dean of the College of Continuing Education and Professional Development, for guidance.

Shaeffer connected Redman to Michelle Kelley, psychology professor, Eminent Scholar and department chair, whose research focuses on issues specific to the military community.

Kelley was eager to help, and so were Konstantin Cigularov, associate professor, and doctoral students Phil Dillulio, Wil Jimenez, Katelyn Reynoldson, Chad Kenneally and Andrew Collmus who were part of Cigularov's advanced seminar.

Cigularov and the students conducted focus groups and surveys with wounded warriors nationwide to determine the needs the Overcome Academy could address.

"I aim to stimulate transformative learning by engaging my students in socially meaningful applied research projects that serve the local community," said Cigularov. "It offers my students opportunities to translate theory into practice and gain valuable professional skills."

The class was scheduled for the fall, but their work and commitment extended past the end of semester.

"Both Dr. Kelley and Dr. Cigularov brought a tremendous amount of experience and wisdom to our interviews, survey development and metrics development," Redman said. "And the students did a great job bringing all the data together in a format that made it easy to show and make decisions from."

With help from ODU, the Overcome Academy graduated its first 13 students in February.

"Working with ODU enabled us to develop interviews for wounded warriors, companies who hire wounded warriors and veterans and to create a survey to understand the challenges wounded warriors face when transitioning to the civilian world," Redman said. "All this information helped drive the curriculum. ODU played a very large role in the success of the Overcome Academy."

Cigularov and his students conducted pre-, post- and 90-day follow-up surveys to evaluate the Overcome Academy's effectiveness. Based on the results, the program is a success.

"ODU allows us an unbiased look at the impact of our program through our ongoing surveys," Redman said. "We intend to keep the psychology department and ODU involved for the future of the program. And we hope to develop relationships with other departments that may be beneficial to wounded warriors transitioning back to the civilian world."

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