William Woods Student Gives Voice to Hurricane Katrina Victims

Lauren McMichael is a senior at William Woods University, with a personal interest in the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Originally from New Orleans, McMichael now lives in Houston, Texas, but still has family and friends in the New Orleans area. After the natural disaster, she saw firsthand that her loved ones were dealing with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

McMichael, who is double majoring in psychology and equestrian science, undertook an independent project that focused on PTSD and how it has affected the residents of the “Big Easy.” The study was sponsored and supervised by Marilyn Van Leeuwen, associate professor of psychology at William Woods.

According to Van Leeuwen, “Research and conference presentation experience is critical for undergraduate psychology majors to complete their comprehensive understanding of the scientific foundation of the discipline of psychology.”

Recently, McMichael presented her research study at a regional meeting of the Southwestern Psychological Association in Forth Worth, Texas.

“The experience itself was great,” McMichael said. “Not only meeting professional psychologists and viewing their research, but also to have such a warm reception of my own research at the conference.”

She added, “Dr. Van Leeuwen helped me feel completely prepared for any question asked during my presentation. Because the conference was for the region that included Louisiana, I had a lot of interest, and more people stopped by my poster than I originally expected.”

McMichael conducted her research during a three-month equestrian internship in New Orleans last summer. When she wasn’t working at the riding stables, she used her time to gather data.

She collected her information by asking selected individuals in highly populated areas, such as grocery store parking lots and shopping malls, to complete a brief written questionnaire.

“I talked with a lot of people, and most of them shared my frustration about the lack of resources for those who felt they suffered psychological damage from what they witnessed during Katrina, and in the storm’s aftermath. Many people told me that they felt forgotten, and that as soon as media coverage ceased, so did support for the city.”
McMichael added, “My hope is that my research will spark interest for the psychological damage in New Orleans following Katrina.”

The daughter of Kevin and Catherine McMichael of Houston, Texas, she has been an active member of the William Woods University community. She has served as president and vice president of Alpha Phi sorority and has been a member of President’s Twenty, a University Ambassador and a Community Advisor.

According to Laura Ward, one of her equestrian professors, “Lauren McMichael is a true example of the student who has taken advantage of the diverse opportunities available at William Woods to create an educational experience that is one of a kind. She has used her undergraduate years to explore all of her interests and to discover new ones.”

As a freshman she was instrumental in starting the Saddle Seat Club and their first fund-raising event made more than $1,000 to assist with students’ showing expenses. She won the 2004 National Championship in the Saddle & Bridle 5-Gaited Horsemanship National Finals. She also was a member of the 2004 U.S. Saddle Seat 5-Gaited Equitation Team that won gold at the Saddle Seat Equitation World Cup Competition.

In January 2005 McMichael was captain of the U. S. Saddle Seat 5-Gaited Equitation Team that won gold in South Africa. In April 2005, she returned to compete in the South African Saddlebred National Championship Horse Show.

Last fall she was an intern at the Fulton Academy, an alternate high school for at-risk students. This semester she has an internship in psychology at Fulton State Hospital, is doing a Mentor/Mentee project, has been interviewing for graduate school and all the while carrying 19 hours.

“Lauren is a leader and a talented rider, as well as a strong scholar,” Ward said.

An Honors Program scholar, she currently holds a 3.97 GPA. She has carried additional classes each semester and will graduate with 151 credit hours. She is planning to pursue further study in clinical psychology at Seattle Pacific University.

She feels her research on Katrina victims helped her in getting into graduate school.

“This project definitely gave me an edge,” she said. “The fact that it was an independent project, and also that I was planning on presenting it at a regional conference, were big selling points on my application!”