Dr. Debbie Sturm

The All Together One Award honors individuals who are committed to working with, caring for, and inspiring others as a way of building a stronger learning community here at JMU. What makes this award feel particularly fitting for Dr. Debbie C. Sturm is it honors individuals who have more than just these virtues. The selection committee is looking for “something else”. Debbie Sturm’s “something else” is the way she has made JMU her home. She built a home for herself here literally and metaphorically. In the literal sense, Debbie has served as the professor in Residence on-campus in Shenandoah Hall for the past two years. Debbie and her husband not only open their hearts, but also their apartment to hundreds of JMU students. Debbie’s door is almost always ajar to those seeking friendly conversation, a good laugh, and a fresh baked cookie. She has taken the students under her nurturing wings and provided them with support and guidance.

Debbie has made JMU her home in the metaphorical sense through the many ways she has repaired, reinforced, and expanded the mission of this university community. Since coming to Harrisonburg four years ago, she has had more of an impact on life and learning here at JMU than most people could hope to have in their entire career. After a full accounting of Debbie’s involvement, there is hardly a corner of this university that she has not touched or impacted with her intelligence, hard work, and devotion. From the classroom to the residence halls, to the arboretum, to the community, she is a dedicated teacher, mentor, and colleague.

When her name comes up in conversation, the first thing everyone says is, “Oh, I just love Debbie!” and there is much to love about her. She is patient, funny, and intelligent. She is kind, generous, and open-hearted. She is witty, compassionate, and diplomatic. She is also something of a superwoman. Talk to her for five minutes, and you will wonder how she manages to fit everything into her week.

She is a rising star in the counseling field, and has taken on considerable leadership responsibilities at JMU. She currently serves as the Coordinator for the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program and the Director of three counseling programs. She is also the Chi Sigma Iota advisor and works within the campus counseling clinic (CAPS), serving the community, seeking clients, and supervising master’s and doctoral level practicum and internship students.

She is someone who cares deeply about others. She is committed to social justice and advocacy. Debbie has considerable expertise in working with
survivors of trauma. She has brought this invaluable clinical experience to the students of JMU. For the past two years, she has emerged as an unwavering voice for sexual assault survivors on campus. She is committed to ensuring that JMU is a safe place for students and helps to ensure that the university responds to survivors with compassion, respect and dignity. Debbie is an active member of the Campus Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She also spearheads a partnership to develop faculty education on Title IX expectations. On top of all this, Debbie maintains a regular caseload of clients at the CAPs clinic, all of whom are survivors of trauma.

Debbie is also a tremendously inspiring person. She’s an accomplished athlete - Iron man and marathons - and a naturalist. She offers both challenge and support as mechanism for growth in the classroom. One of her students wrote: “As one of her students, I can speak first hand to the many ways that she has impacted my life. I look at my life and the things I have accomplished in the past four years and I know that I wouldn’t have done half of them if it hadn’t been for (her) [Dr. Debbie Sturm]. But it isn’t just me - she does this with nearly all of her students. Being her student has been the greatest stroke of luck I’ve ever had. Her patience, boundless empathy, and unbridled acceptance, have helped me grow in ways that have enabled me to better care for others. She is my friend, advocate, and my hero. She has taught me something about the sort of human being I want to become.”

Two of Debbie’s colleagues had this to say:

Renee Staton: Debbie is, without a doubt, one of the most student-centered faculty members I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. Her support of student involvement and success is unparalleled, as evidenced by some of the collaborative and meaningful work she’s done to address the needs of students across campus and beyond. Even in her first year at JMU, Debbie stayed connected to students at her previous institution, helping them with their research and presenting with them at national conferences.

She has also worked successfully to include undergraduate and graduate students in study abroad, in what will clearly be a transformative experience for all involved. Her attention to detail and ability to identify students’ unique strengths enables her to create winning teams and produce impressive outcomes. 

Dr. Lennis Echterling: I remember vividly when I observed Debbie’s Practicum in Clinical Mental Health Counseling class during her first semester of teaching in 2011…this course is especially stressful and challenging because it is the first real counseling experience that our master’s level students have in working with clients from the community. Debbie created a wonderfully supportive safe haven for her students to share their concerns about counseling troubled clients.

Dr. Debbie C. Sturm stands out as an All Together One recipient.

Rachel Pittard




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