Laura Lunsford (BS ’88, PhD ’07, Psy) is assistant professor of Psychology at University of Arizona South. She is the former director of NC State’s Park Scholarships program. Lunsford has created an endowment to support graduate students in the Department of Psychology. Lauren Kirkpatrick, CHASS director of communication, recently spoke with her about why she gives.
You came to NC State as an engineering major. What changed?
I loved math. I majored in Electrical Engineering my first two years. But one day in the lab it dawned on me that I was more interested in solving problems with people than with things. I took some human resource development classes in Psychology and loved them. Jim Kalat, Lynne Baker-Ward, Don Mershon, Craig Brookins were all terrific.
You returned to campus ten years later to become the first full-time director of the Park scholarships program. In addition to building it into one of the nation’s premier merit scholarship programs, you decided to earn your doctorate in Psychology. Why?
I was asking a lot of questions about the value of mentoring and about the value of programs that support talented students. The faculty I kept seeking out told me I was asking doctoral student-type questions. With Denis Gray’s help and support, I decided I could do my job and pursue my doctorate.
What is your area of scholarship?
I study mentoring, talent development, and emerging leadership for adolescents and young adults. I am also interested in educational access and equity for under-served populations. I am involved in a University of Arizona mentoring program now, looking at how the relationship benefits not only the students but also the faculty.
You dedicated your dissertation about mentoring to Dr. Denis Gray, and created a graduate student endowment in his honor. Why?
Denis was my mentor in every sense of the word: He would tell me when I needed to buck up. He helped me think through my practicum experience. He always encouraged me to be a faculty person. He saw me in ways I did not see myself.
Why do you choose to give back to CHASS?
When I was in the PhD program, I received a graduate scholarship from the Psychology Department. It was not huge, but it increased my ability to participate fully. I was so grateful for that support. Attending conferences is important, but it’s hard when you’re a student and your budget is tight. I wanted to give back to other graduate students because of Denis Gray.