"I feel that my education has helped me to serve the marginalized at a level that I never thought possible."
Debra Stewart was in her fifties when she made the decision to go back to school and earn a Bachelor's degree. Since then, she has completed not only the Bachelor's degree, but also a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning with Technology; now, she is enrolled in a Doctor of Psychology program online at University of the Rockies.
In addition to graduate school, Debra works as the Director of Wellness for St. Leonard, a Senior Living Community, and is instrumental in facilitating The Vital Life Community Project. In fact, she recently facilitated St. Leonard's certification as a Vital Life Community - the first in the nation! She also teaches both online and in the traditional classroom for Sinclair Community College, and serves on two advisory boards: Mental Health Technology and the Vital Nation. Further, Debra owns a company called Picture Yourself Stronger that offers corporate wellness programs to various organizations.
Debra chose online schooling not just because of her obviously busy schedule, but also because she needed to be available to her husband. "My husband was diagnosed with heart problems and dementia. I did not want to spend too much time away from him - I had become his caregiver."
Three degrees and several years of working with dementia patients sparked a mission in Debra to "develop tools for caregivers of dementia residents. These tools will identify the learning styles and remaining abilities of dementia patients so that activities of daily living can be enriching learning experiences. This will help the dementia patient stay as independent as possible with dignity for as long as possible."
The Doctor of Psychology, Educational Leadership and Health and Wellness Psychology Specialization is certainly the right path for Debra as it will give her the training she needs in memory and learning, and working with adults and seniors, to make a real impact on dementia patient care. But Debra is not waiting until she graduates to start making a difference. "I have developed the 'Learning Styles Inventory Tool' for caregivers of dementia residents and family members. We are currently in the pilot states of testing this approach for advanced dementia care. I utilized the information and training from my Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning with Technology to produce this program which assesses non-verbal learning styles so that care, learning, and relearning can be offered in the preferred learning style of the resident or loved one." The next step is to perfect and build upon this research with the training she receives in her doctoral program.
Debra is clearly an example of the incredible accomplishments that can come from hard work and determination, but it is not just success that Debra is after - it's also fulfillment. "Finishing your goals and moving ahead with your dreams can bring great inner peace and joy."
Update: Debra has begun to accept speaking engagements, most recently at the Ohio Assisted Living Association and the Ohio Health Care Association since we last heard from her. Though her husband passed away in March 2011, Debra's goals have not wavered. "I feel that my education has helped me to serve the marginalized at a level that I never thought possible." University of the Rockies is proud to have inspiring people like Debra in our community.