Leading in Pediatric Health Research

In her role as chief of the Pediatric Trauma and Critical Illness Branch at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Valerie Maholmes ’80, ’84 MA works to ensure a better future for some of the country’s most vulnerable children.

Her position, which is under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health, puts her at the forefront of the country’s research on the effects  of critical illness and acute traumatic experiences, such as man-made or natural disasters, child abuse and neglect and exposure to violence and bullying.

“It’s an honor to be a steward of this important research and to have the opportunity to help improve the quality of life for vulnerable and critically ill children,” Maholmes says.

While Maholmes has always worked to help others, her original career plan was to be a broadcast journalist, so she majored in English at Montclair State and also earned a teaching certificate.
Developing critical thinking skills carried me – learning how to ask questions and challenge assumptions. It’s what I was trained to do,” she says. “While it seems like a ‘big leap’ from my degree to my career, asking questions, pursuing answers, writing – all these skills are needed in my current position.”

A job as admissions director at Caldwell College led Maholmes back to Montclair State to earn a master’s degree in Counseling, Human Services and Guidance. Of that job she says, “I learned about education disparities and worked to support educational opportunity programming there.”  

After college, Maholmes moved to Washington, D.C., continued her studies and followed a career path that included several certificates and advanced degrees, including a PhD from Howard University, and 13 years as a faculty member at the Yale School of Medicine’s Child Study Center, where she provided educational and clinical support to low-income neighborhood schools.

She has published numerous articles and chapters of books, and the Oxford University Press published her book, The Oxford Handbook of Child Development and Poverty and will soon publish a follow-up, Why Hope Still Matters: Understanding pathways toward resilience and well-being.

Early in her career, she also worked at Montclair State as an educational development specialist. “My academic training and professional experiences at Montclair State played a tremendous role in shaping my career path,” she says. “They motivated me to pursue advanced degrees to put myself in a better position to address significant challenges associated with disparities in education and in health. My work at Yale and in my current capacity at the NIH stems from the guidance, inspiration and education I received at Montclair State.”

This past May, Maholmes received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Montclair State Graduate School during convocation. “It was wonderful to come back to campus to see people who mentored me or who I worked with during work study,” she says.

Maholmes recalls those who made a difference for her at Montclair State: “The most influential person was Dean James Harris, who was the first to challenge me to use my education as a means to give back to my community. I took my first psychology class with Dr. Dan Williams, and from that point on I was hooked. I knew studying human behavior would be in my future.”

Now she’s in a position to influence others. “I would be delighted to see Montclair State faculty develop research agendas in the areas of pediatric trauma and injury.”

- Stacy Albanese '08