Deborah A. Dickens — November 20, 1950 – January 25, 2018
After making an hour long commute, a deep blue Volkswagen convertible turns onto Alden Street. The bright, bubbly color uniquely emerges from an otherwise dull parking lot. Out steps Deb Dickens.
To many at Springfield College, the same could be said about Dickens. Her smile, sense of humor, and determination distinguished her from the rest. However, it is what was behind her bright blue eyes that meant the world to a very specific group of students.
Dickens traded in her old Hyundai for a vehicle that was more fun, after overcoming her battle against breast cancer a number of years ago. This pivotal moment was a symbol of hope. She knew how to fight the good fight, and that is precisely what she did every day for 25 years at Springfield.
As the College’s first administrator for supporting students with documented disabilities, Dickens, Director of Learning Support Services, was a vital advocate for many. Her devotion to creating an encouraging and inclusive learning environment has left students empowered, often at times when they doubted themselves most.
It is this unique impact and legacy that struck a deep chord within students’ hearts, when President Mary-Beth Cooper notified the college community that Dickens had passed away on Thursday, January 25, 2018.
“Deb worked with me to recover my documents from back in middle school, to help me get put back on an IEP Plan. Thanks to her, that’s really helped me succeed here at Springfield College,” said junior Joey Durant. “Without her I really don’t think I would have been as successful as I am now.”
Dickens helped many students in a similar way to Durant. On the surface, her job was very specific.
“She was the main go to person to make sure that accommodations were met, students understood the process to get accommodations, and that the College was being compliant in its commitments to students who learn differently,” explained Andrew Wilcox, Director of the Academic Success Center.
Though, her role stretched further than just dealing with paperwork.
“She always approached people by placing them first. As a leader, Deb Dickens was a facilitator for others to extend assistance to students,” said student Kathleen Connell.
Wilcox echoed that stance.
“She might know that the student has ADHD and anxiety and they need time and a half on a test, while the faculty just know the student needs time and a half on a test. She did a lot to protect students’ privacy, while giving them access to the supports that they need.”
It was her combination of unwavering encouragement and respect for students that empowered them to become successful. Dickens embodied a motto from the moment she began working at the College, as the pioneer of Learning Support Services, before the Academic Success Center even existed.
“Deb was one of the most influential Springfield College faculty members during my last three and a half years here. I credit her support and knowledge to all that I have achieved in my time on this campus,” reflected senior Luis Gomes. “Even on the toughest days, she always reminded me of the motto that was frequently talked about during our academic coaching meetings: never give up.”
No one knows the hard work and persistence Dickens embodied better than Judy Hartling, current Director of the Academic Advising Center. Hartling was interviewed by Dickens in 1996, when applying for a position at Springfield, and their bond grew exponentially once she was hired.
“Deb was one of the first people I met,” recalled Hartling. “[We] and I shared something in common, because we were one person offices. She worked in Student Affairs originally, and I worked for Academic Affairs, but we were both really concerned with students’ academic success.”
As individual offices, the two relied heavily on each other, even physically sharing a room together for years. “Not only was she an advisor for students, but she was also an advisor for me, and I think vice versa,” explained Hartling.
Students and faculty alike, Dickens’s underlying motivation was simple: to make a difference. Hartling adds that, “She may not have impacted a huge number of students, but the group that she did impact, was in a huge way.”
Her impact is evident now more than ever, with an outpouring of support from former students on Facebook as well. Springfield College graduate Mathieu Peloquin posted, “Deb was a special person who helped not only myself, but every student see their true potential and has made me want to pursue a career in disability support services. Thank you for everything Deb.”
As a longtime faculty member and friend, Hartling believes the truest way to remember Dickens involves two aspects. “She was truly dedicated to helping students not just be successful, but be proud of themselves, and she knew how to have a great vacation,” she said.
Lita Adams, Director of Purchasing, testified to Dickens energetic spirit, noting that a little blue convertible was just the beginning of her adventures. Often times with Springfield colleagues or friends from her hometown of Avon, Connecticut, Dickens traveled across Canada, saw parts of Italy, visited Ireland, Vermont, Florida, and the Carolinas. When looking for shorter expeditions, she frequently ended up at a golf course or bowling alley. No matter the destination, each outing was one she cherished.
“We used to go to lunch on Fridays and when we’d leave campus, we always went in her car, so we could put the top down and be the cool women,” recalled Adams. “She knew how to live.”
Knowing that Dickens lived her life to the fullest brings a sense of peace to those who knew her best, especially during this challenging time. Junior Jen Jacobi has been inspired by Dickens and offers a sense of optimism for the future.
“Deb was my source of information, my advocate, and the calming voice of reason when I felt things were getting away from me,” said Jacobi. “I would thank Deb for being one of those difference makers we all have in our lives. I hope that I will touch as many lives as she touched, and I believe I can honor her most by becoming the person she saw in me.”
Learning Support Services:
Vicki Anderson, the Learning Disabilities Specialist, will be the key contact with case management and accommodation planning moving forward. Students can schedule appointments with Vicki by contacting Donna Graziano, the ASC Administrative Assistant, at 413-748-3389 and firstname.lastname@example.org
Arrangement Services For Dickens:
“Visiting hours will be held on Thursday, February 1, 2018 from 5-8 p.m. at Carmon Funeral Home & Family Center, 301 Country Club Rd., Avon, CT. Funeral services will be private and at the convenience of the family. In lieu of flowers, donations in Deb’s memory may be made to the Lustgarten Foundation for pancreatic cancer research, 415 Crossways Park Drive, Suite D, Woodbury, N.Y. 11797.”