By Lauren Holahan

Lauren Holahan: WAP Woman Wednesday

In this regular feature, we hear from women academics and professionals about their lives, their faith, and the way it all intersects. Pull up a chair and join us as we chat with occupational therapist and professor Lauren Holahan.

Welcome, Lauren! Tell us about yourself.

Name: Lauren Holahan

Current job: Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy Faculty at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, but 100% of my time is contracted to North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in the Exceptional Children’s division to provide consultation to public schools around how occupational therapists work alongside students, families, and staff. I also help schools access Medicaid reimbursement.

Current location: Raleigh, North Carolina

Schools attended: Duke BA, Biology; UNC-CH MSOT and PhD, Occupational Science

A favorite activity: 

I walk with my dog, Cortez, every day on the Eno River and swim (in the pool, not river) a lot.

What was the hardest part of grad school and what kept you sane? 

Part of accepting my current position was agreeing to work on a terminal degree, which I did for nine years. So, I was doing the PhD while I was working full time and for most of that time was a single parent. The hardest part was finishing, especially after the course work. It was challenging to create enough of my own structure and finally a year ago, I had to give myself permission to do it and let other things go.

I changed committee chairs, and found a person who asked really good questions at the right time. In implementation science (how we think about systems change and improvement down to classroom teacher practice) one important line is gentle pressure applied relentlessly. This is how you create change, and that is what my advisor did for me.

What do you love most about your job right now?

I love that I’m involved in lots of projects that are not part of my job description — things like coordinating the statewide infrastructure for school mental health. I have the type of job where I’m not boxed in to my job description, and I get to do really good work.

I spent a lot of time being afraid or resistant to things outside my job description, kind of being a rule-follower, and probably not paying attention to the skills I was acquiring. I got into school mental health because I’m a trained facilitator, and the early meetings led into a much bigger project. Five years later, North Carolina was awarded a nine million dollar grant because I said yes to facilitating a meeting. Who knows what the trajectory is going to be to a yes?

How does your faith inform the way you think about or do your work?

I want faith to inform everything I do, including and especially my work. I pray during meetings. I ponder my calendar as I pray in the morning, thinking about who I want to be and Who I want to glorify in the places I’m headed today. Broadly speaking and mostly unwittingly, I’m pretty sure God informs what I‘m doing. That I work in special education is very connected to my sense of the gospel. Students with disabilities are a vulnerable population and need a lot of time, talent, and care. They deserve the best instructors, the best therapists, the best specialists we have. Their education is a civil rights issue; it’s a social justice issue. I could do a lot of different things and working in public schools is probably the lowest paying practice setting for occupational therapists. But, I think IDEA (the federal special education law) is one of the most amazing pieces of legislation ever. And I think it honors kids as created citizens to have high expectations for them, to want and work for their best outcomes. It’s inextricably linked to what I think the gospel is about.

About the Author

Lauren Holahan coordinates the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction State Systemic Improvement Plan for special education.

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