We asked several CAHNRS Ambassadors, excellent students who love WSU and their college, to name their favorite or most influential professors. And now we’re featuring those nominated educators in this weekly series, which runs through the summer.
Today we’re showcasing Debbie Handy, associate clinical professor in the Department of Human Development. Here are her answers to a few questions:
Where are you from?
I grew up in Phillips, Wisc., a town about the size of Colfax. I was an active 4-H member (leader), I worked (lots of babysitting, A&W car hop, factory work). I also joined lots of clubs, participated in band, cheer, pep squad, and gymnastics.
Where did you go to school?
I completed my B.S. at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in 1981. I completed both my M.A. and Ph.D. at Washington State University in 1986 and 2000.
How did you become interested in your field?
I decided in eighth grade that I was going to be a teacher. By tenth grade, I had determined that Family and Consumer Sciences (Home Economics) was my field. At the time, the programs were relatively traditional, but changing. My academic and personal strengths were related to this field – sewing, cooking, financial management, family relationships, child development. I had been an active 4-H member, focusing my projects on many of these topics. I took some Home Economics classes in high school. I thought I had the patience for teaching. I had some practice teaching through work at home with three brothers who have developmental disabilities, and I helped lead some 4-H projects with younger organizational members.
Why did you want to become a professor?
I didn’t plan on teaching at a university. I pictured myself teaching high school forever. I was the first person in my family to complete a bachelor’s degree. I taught junior and senior high school for a couple of years in Wisconsin, then followed my husband to Washington. He was attending WSU, so I worked on my master’s degree, part of my professional goal list. I was offered an instructor position in the Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles Department, where I had completed my master’s.
I taught in the AMDT program for about 5 years. When it was evident that we would be in Pullman for quite a while, I started my Ph.D. I didn’t quite “fall” into being a professor, but it hadn’t been on my radar in the beginning. I really enjoyed the academic stimulation of the university, the flexibility I had as an instructor with small children at home, and the opportunity to work with young men and women as they were becoming independent. I had some fabulous mentors at WSU and they coached me through some professional decisions. I was fortunate enough to find a position in Human Development that allowed me to work with my strengths, and to continue to grow professionally.
What is your favorite thing about working with college students?
I love that college students are at a stage in life when they are ready to take control. They have opinions; they want to be independent; they are capable of managing a number of responsibilities. But college students still require guidance. There are days when I feel like I am both professor and mom. But mostly, college students are independent and curious and responsible. They are simply a lot of fun to work with.
What advice would you pass along to students?
There are so many things! First and foremost – make sure to take advantage of the many opportunities available to you on campus. Join organizations, listen to speakers, participate in the kinds of activities that make your heart sing! College should be work, but it should be fun too! Read your syllabus, read your syllabus again, check your syllabus when you have questions. Take responsibility for your own academic progress. Sleep and eat regularly. Read and follow directions. Participate in a research project. Assume leadership. Ask questions. Communicate with your professors and TAs.
Enjoy being a Coug – there is nothing else quite like it in the whole world! Go COUGS!