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Julia Lombard named Valedictorian of SUNY New Paltz’s Class of 2024

Julia Lombard ’24 (Psychology) came to SUNY New Paltz in the fall of 2020 and found her voice as a Honors Program student focused on evolutionary psychology and as a singer with a campus ACapella group.

“All of the experiences I had at SUNY New Paltz helped me come out of my shell,” she said. “New Paltz allowed me to grow as a researcher, a student, a friend, a performer and a collaborator.” 

Today, Lombard is the Class of 2024 Valedictorian, preparing to deliver the Student Address at the Saturday Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony on May 18, and reflecting on a storied collegiate career marked by academic excellence and a strong creative outlet with the Sexy Pitches, a long-running New Paltz student organization featuring all-treble singers.   

“Collaboration is one of the biggest takeaways from my experience at New Paltz,” she said. “Whether I was on stage or presenting a project, I was surrounded by peers and faculty who empowered me to be my best self.” 

The New City, New York, native threw herself into academics early on, volunteering as a first-year student to be a part of the New Paltz Evolutionary Psychology Lab, led by Psychology Professor Glenn Geher. 

She later joined the lab as a full member after gaining insight through readings on social and evolutionary psychology, and eventually rose to the rank of Evolutionary Psychology Lab co-supervisor.  

“I’m fascinated with how emotions can help us adapt to and navigate certain situations,” she said. “Learning more about the psychology behind this phenomenon inspired my curiosity even more.”  

The 2024 President’s Award recipient put that knowledge into practice as an undergraduate researcher for her Honors Program thesis. Lombard developed a survey- and experimental-based series of studies to gauge the psychological correlates of the emotion of awe. The experiment had participants peer into virtual reality goggles through which they were presented with different vignettes, allowing Lombard to draw preliminary conclusions about possible correlations between awe, perception, and other positive life outcomes.

“In my first study I found that having regular feelings of awe was a significant predictor of life satisfaction and well-being” she said. In the second study I wanted to see how individuals respond to both ordinary and extraordinary life circumstances. Experiencing 360-degree larger-than-life phenomena can elicit a strong reaction of awe, demonstrating the potential use of virtual reality in a lab setting.” 

Lombard shared her work at this year’s Student Research Symposium, an annual showcase of students’ innovative scholarship and creative activity. 

Her academic stewardship also includes a role as co-president of the Psi Chi Honor Society, where she organized panels on important topics in the field. Additionally, Lombard lent her expertise in psychology as a peer tutor and supplemental instructor with the Center for Student Success. 

“My goals in working at the center are to help students get the best educational experience they can,” she said.  

Now, the self-described “homebody” is advancing to pursue a doctorate in social psychology at Florida State University. 

“It’ll be hard to be away from friends and family, but I know this is the right move for me in continuing my studies and teaching,” she said.