The ‘Nontraditional’ Women’s College Dean Debra Dobkins

Oct 11, 2012
Brenau Staff

At the midpoint of the fall term of the 2012-13 academic year, Dr. Debra Dobkins completes the first leg in her newest academic assignments – dean of the 134-year-old Women’s College at Brenau University.

Debra Dobkins, Dean of the Women's College
Dr. Debra Dobkins from her office at Virginia Hall on the Gainesville campus steers the evolution of the Women’s College “living and leadership opportunity.”

One of her biggest challenges, she said, is bridging the gap between the traditional 18- to 22-year-old residential students on the tradition-rich campus and the “nontraditional” students who not only may commute to classes but also may be older and already involved in careers or raising families.

Dobkins personally has been in both student categories.

“I was one of those who went back to college after having a family and working in a full-time job,” said Dobkins. “I know what courage and determination it takes for a woman who has been managing a home, a family, a job, and other things in life to come to school. I am constantly amazed at how they excel. They put their hearts into it.”

Both the “nontraditionals” and commuter “day students” in the Women’s College “need to become more involved in every aspect of the Women’s College experience,” she said. “Just because they do not have a bedroom on campus does not mean that they are not a vital part of our campus community.”

Click below to listen to an interview
with Dr. Debra Dobkins on WBCX FM.

Dobkins, who joined the Brenau faculty in 1998, has been an associate professor of English and director of the Writing Center that helps students bolster their communications skills. She now has responsibility for the 900-student residential college – one of 47 women’s colleges still in operation in the United States.

“I can think of no better person to oversee the stewardship of the Women’s College than Dr. Dobkins,” said to Dr. Andrea Birch, who previously held the Women’s College deanship alongside her other roles as dean of the College of Fine Arts & Humanities and dean of the Undergraduate School.

“She has been an inspiration to her students throughout her career, and she understands why it is important to Brenau and to the world to preserve the unique Women’s College environment at Brenau.”

Women’s college product

Dobkins, a product of women’s college education, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a Master of Arts in Teaching English degree from Agnes Scott College. There, she was an Irene K. Woodruff Scholar, a member of Mortar Board National Honor Society and the top-ranked member of her graduating class, the first “returning student,” which is Agnes Scott’s nomenclature for “nontraditional,” to achieve that distinction.

She earned her Ph.D. in Language and Literacy Education from the University of Georgia, where she was a recipient of the Faculty Development in Georgia grant. She also was a member of the Phi Kappa Phi national honor society and a nominee for the Robert B. Park Prize for graduate writing. Her dissertation, Artisans of the Self: Southern Women Reading Southern Women was nominated for several awards.

Dobkins’ primary academic focus is on modern Southern literature, with secondary emphases in modern Irish and British literature, particularly women’s writing. In addition to literary study, her research interests include writing center and composition pedagogy, qualitative methodologies, feminist theory and teaching practices, and Foucauldian analyses, which deal with power relationships in society expressed through language. On these subjects, she has penned numerous papers and given presentations at regional and national conferences. A recent honor was speaking at the Eudora Welty Centennial Celebration in Jackson, Miss. She is currently working on an article about Welty’s experience at Cambridge, England, and a book about how young Southern women use Southern texts to care for the self.

At Brenau, Dobkins’ contributions include founding the Writing Center, which conducted 2,500 individual tutorials last year; starting the Online Writing Center in 2005 and Graduate Writing Services in 2011; co-authoring The Write Stuff: Strategies for Effective Writing and Speaking with Dr. Kathryn Locey; co-directing First-Year Seminar for Women’s College students; designing and implementing a team-teaching approach to composition courses; administering a 3M Vision Grant for supplemental instruction; directing the Cambridge Study Abroad program; and hosting a regional conference on teaching writing.

She is also a recipient of the Panhellenic Faculty Award and the Vulcan Materials Award for Excellence in Teaching and Campus Leadership.  She was named Faculty Member of the Year for 2010-11 and a Governor’s Teaching Fellow for 2011-12.

Dobkins and her husband, Charles, and son, Bo, live near Lake Lanier in Buford, Ga.

 A ‘living and leadership community’

The Brenau Women’s College “living and leadership opportunity,” she said, “goes beyond the classroom” and the Brenau academic programs that are offered now on a variety of on-campus and online platforms.

“It is an experience that fosters a spirit of sisterhood among these women,” she said. “I have never seen anything more powerful than when a group of young women come together with a shared purpose.”

As Brenau Women’s College prepares to celebrate a milestone 135th anniversary in 2013, Dobkins’ full plate also contains seeking ways to get current students more engaged with alumnae in mentoring, job shadowing and life skills development scenarios as part of the academic process and to open Women’s College doors wider to nonresidential undergraduates, particularly those who may have delayed their educations to raise families or get jobs.

Dobkins said that the aspect of her new job that especially excites her is helping women “not only find their voices but also find ways to use those voices for the advancement of women and the betterment of their families and communities.”

“Women can find themselves here,” she said. “A Brenau Women’s College student is a person with a face and a name, not a number. If she wants to be involved in the college experience at every level, this is the place to do it.”