2016 Tillman Scholar

Karen Gallagher

Arizona State University
Ph.D., Speech & Hearing Science

“Military service taught me anything is possible. Success is a choice, and the only failure is giving up.”

For Karen, enlisting in the U.S. Army shifted her beliefs about success and failure in life. After reading about women in the military in a Sunday newspaper, a switch was flipped inside of her; a sense of uncertainty gave way to a sense of purpose. Against family expectation, she secretly sought out a local recruiter and left for basic and Airborne training shortly after her high school graduation. Today, she credits the Army with teaching her that success is a choice, and the only failure is giving up. After her deployment to Desert Storm, she earned her Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree while caring for her disabled child, commuting an hour each way to school, and waiting tables on the weekends.  When people ask her how she did all of  that and earned entrance into the top speech-pathology program in the country, she has only one answer: “I didn’t know it wasn’t possible.”  

At Arizona State University, Karen is now pursuing her Ph.D. in Speech and Hearing Science, with a research focus on the effects of mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) and other service-related conditions on cognition in military veterans, especially those entering college. Her interest in service-related conditions is deeply personal. In the context of her research, she has met many student veterans who have reached out with concerns about their memory and ability to learn, reporting difficulties affecting academic performance. Although the VA has taken some measures to improve treatment of service-related issues such as mTBI and PTSD, she sees too many students falling through the cracks because their symptoms are less visible than those that typically qualify for on-going treatment.  

As a doctoral student, she recently earned a grant from the Disabled Veterans National Foundation and hopes to establish a multidisciplinary center on campus that provides cognitive coaching, counseling, and transition support services to student veterans in order to improve their outcomes. Upon completion of her program, she intends to continue her research in a tenure-track faculty position that will allow her to expand her research of service-related conditions and possible treatments for the military community.