Distinguished Alum: O'Malley turns students toward service

Rising Star honoree Meagan O'Malley turned a deeply held belief in helping the community into an educational guidepost.
Mon Sep 9, 2019

By Jonathan Morales

When Meagan O’Malley '06 (School Psychology) wanted to combine her research with her desire to feel connected to the community, she found the perfect opportunity at Sacramento State.

“In my family, we have a long history of a spirit of service,” including a grandfather who worked as a labor organizer, O’Malley said. “I was seeking a way to parlay my interest in psychology and my interest in doing research into something that was community focused.”

O'Malley has returned to Sacramento State, where she earned her master's degree in 2006, and is an assistant professor of School Psychology, training the next generation of educators.

For her contributions to the University, her work with students, and her widely published research on topics including school climate and school mental health, O’Malley has been selected to receive the 2019 Rising Star Award from the Sacramento State Alumni Association. She will be formally recognized at the Distinguished Alumni Awards dinner on Sept. 12.

O’Malley earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California, Davis, before enrolling at Sacramento State for her masters. She then worked in the private sector and earned a Ph.D. in counseling, clinical and school psychology from UC Santa Barbara before coming back to Sac State in 2016.

“Looking back, the commitment the faculty had to instruction and student learning (at Sacramento State) was unparalleled,” she said.

In addition to teaching graduate courses, O’Malley also trains graduate students in the Center for Counseling and Diagnostic Services and has served on multiple faculty committees. Off campus, she has served as an advisor and expert for multiple organizations and initiatives, including the California Department of Education’s Project Cal Well, and the Future of School Safety Panel in Parkland, Florida. She has authored or co-authored more than 20 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters.

Returning to Sacramento State, she said, has allowed her to see how much work and collaboration goes on behind the scenes to ensure students have a positive experience and are well-prepared to serve the region.

“Our faculty modeled for us that working in schools is not a zero-sum game,” O’Malley said, “It’s not about retaining skills and information for yourself, but also about helping others. Ultimately, we have a commitment to improving service for all young people in Sacramento, not just the young people we serve.”

O’Malley says she is inspired by her graduate students and their enthusiasm, intellectual curiosity and openness to new ideas. And she enjoys teaching at a public university that provides access and opportunity to all students, including those from underprivileged backgrounds and first-generation college students.

“Whenever I get discouraged, that’s what I go back to philosophically,” she said. “Philosophically, I’m aligned with this being a public institution, with the key commitment being the students.”