Molly O'Malley beside helicopter

Piloting a path to a new career

Former Marine Corps pilot awarded scholarship as she pursues speech-language pathology degree

During her 12 years as a Marine Corps helicopter pilot, Maj. Molly O’Malley flew in a war zone and quickly learned to make split-second decisions up in the air and deal with daily challenges on the ground.

But transitioning from full-time military pilot to part-time graduate student at South Carolina hasn’t turned out to be the cakewalk you might imagine.

“Completing a master’s degree and beginning a new profession in speech-language pathology also presents significant challenges,” says O’Malley, who began her studies in the Arnold School of Public Health this semester.

“As a new mom, military spouse and student, the mental and physical trials associated with parenting, succeeding academically and transitioning into my new career will be as demanding and rewarding as those I faced in the military.”

O’Malley is using her G.I. Bill benefits, which partly cover the cost of earning a master’s degree, and she recently got a bit of good news on that front. She was named the inaugural recipient of the Salute to Service Scholarship, administered through the university’s Veteran and Military Success Center. The scholarship is exclusive to veterans and is based on academic achievement, leadership ability, service and sacrifice.

O’Malley graduated with honors from Villanova University in 2009 with a B.A. in psychology, an experience that planted the seed for her pursuit of a master’s in speech-language pathology.

“One of my favorite classes as an undergraduate was cognitive psychology, which ties into language and learning and how the brain processes language,” O’Malley says. “So, I already knew that speech and language was interesting to me, but it also just seemed like a rewarding career.

My military career honed some of my best traits: a dedication to excellence, a desire to overcome challenges and a drive to improve the lives of others.

Molly O'Malley

“In the Marine Corps, I discovered one of my passions as the squadron’s senior flight and tactics instructor. Teaching classes and mentoring students through a syllabus, enabling them to progress from unqualified to fully proficient, was incredibly fulfilling and one of the highlights of my career. I look forward to the similarly rewarding challenge of guiding a client through a treatment plan using the same creativity, problem-solving, and patience.”

O’Malley, who resides at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina with her husband, an active duty Marine Corps pilot, will complete most of the master’s degree online and will spend part of one summer in Columbia in a practicum with other students. She’ll finish the clinical training requirements wherever she and her husband are stationed in the future.

For now, she’s focused on completing her first semester and progressing toward graduation in 2025.

“My military career honed some of my best traits: a dedication to excellence, a desire to overcome challenges and a drive to improve the lives of others,” O’Malley says. “I’m excited and eager to use the experience and skills that I possess to succeed in both new and familiar ways as a student and speech-language pathologist.”

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