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Debra Westby finalist for outstanding returning adult student award
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Debra Westby (right) poses with Lori Berquam, Dean of Students, at the April 24 reception where Debra was named a Finalist for the Outstanding Returning Adult Student Award. She received a scholarship, as well.
At 42, Debra Westby was faced with a difficult situation. General Motors was closing their factory and downsizing her job, leaving her, a single parent with two children, out of work.
After the shock wore off, Debra came to the realization that it was time to go back to school. She began classes at UW-Rock County, dipping her toes into higher education for the first time.
While her experience was rocky, at times – it had been almost 30 years since she wrote essays, solved algebra problems, or took French – her hard work prevailed, and she transferred to Madison with a commendable GPA.
In her classes, Debra learned about oppression and injustice, and decided that she wanted to try to alleviate some of that pain for people. The B.S.W. program seemed like a great fit, and she began working in community mental health with clients diagnosed with serious and persistent mental illness.
This experience was formative. Debra commented that her clients have “overcome so many obstacles just trying to get by in our society…. They have challenged me in ways that I could never have imagined, but I came to one conclusion… social work is what I want to do with my life.”
With graduation fast approaching, Debra is making big plans. She sees a great need for mental health services in Rock County, where there aren’t non-profits comparable to Dane County’s Yahara House, Cornucopia, or Chrysalis, and she hopes to take the lessons she learned at UW and apply them in her hometown.
On April 24, Debra was honored for her outstanding work and was named a finalist for the 2013 Outstanding Returning Adult Student Award. The award, presented by Continuing Studies, includes a scholarship.