The First UROP Grant Recipients
Where are they now?

Bookmark and Share
Return to The First UROP Grant Recipients

Debra Richards Thibodeau '88
Major: psychology
Job title: Elementary school guidance counselor, Georgetown Elementary School
Hometown: Georgetown, Maine

Debra Richards Thibodeau '88
Debra Richards Thibodeau '88

What have you been doing since graduation, and what are you doing now?

My undergraduate years at UNH were amazing, especially the time spent as a Resident Assistant and as a sister of Alpha Phi. Having started my time there as a Biochem Engineer major, I realized by my junior year that I need to follow my passion: psychology. One of the highlights of my undergraduate years was travelling to Harvard to meet Dr. BF Skinner, seeing his research first hand, and having "high tea" with him and his wife in their Cambridge home. Another high point was doing research with Dr. Baum—quite an experience, that lay the foundation for much of my work in my career. It took much discipline seven days a week to assist a professor with his research project, and it inspired me to pursue my own project through UROP. By the time graduation was near, I knew in my heart that my calling was working with individuals that were marginalized by society. I had found a creative way to do it: counseling. I had decided before graduation that I wished to pursue my Masters in Counseling. Having worked at Community Partners in Dover during my externship in Psychology, I became very aware that there was a lack of mental health supports available to those diagnosed with disabilities and those that existed were virtually inaccessible. So, off I went to the University of Maine in Orono. My first week there, I met the man that would eventually become my husband! While there, I pursued my degree, with a focus on Community Agency Counseling. I worked as a Resident Director for two of my three years at UMO, meeting some amazing people during my time there. After grad school, I worked at Community Partners for nearly 17 years. My husband and I decided to move to his hometown of Georgetown, Maine, to raise our son. The year we moved, I became a Guidance Counselor at our small island school. Being a Guidance Counselor is an amazing job, and in a small school, it is even more creative. I work in our School Greenhouse on projects with students, teach Guidance and Health concepts in the classroom, facilitate a low-ropes Project Adventure course, coordinate and teach after school enrichment for students, including Archery, Fishing, Biking, Leadership Club and Civil Rights Team. I have had opportunities to present at conferences, including presenting as the keynote speaker at MeCA four years ago. I also do a lot of grant writing and fundraising for special projects at the school, especially those that bring unique opportunities to our students. It's such an honor to have former students come back for advice, ask for references, drop by to talk about career choices, or to update me on what they have pursued in their lives. Being in a remote school inspired me to pursue my CAS with a Mental Health focus, which I have managed to finish while working, taking care of my elderly parents who have moved in with us and raising my family, including having a daughter last year. I enjoy being involved with the community, volunteering for many things, including Boy Scouts where my son is pursuing his Eagle Scout at this time. I enjoy watching my son play goalie in high school lacrosse, gardening, cooking with my family, long walks on the beach, hiking and travelling. After graduation, I will pursue my license in counseling and open up a practice that will work around my job at school. My hope is to work with children, families and individuals that have had trouble accessing services with other clinicians. I also plan to continue my consultation work with the Autism Society of Maine.

Your UROP project was entitled "Analyzing Foraging Behavior as Influenced by Prey Frequency." Can you tell us what you did, and what you got out of it?

I remember that I bought pigeons with my grant money. I had to drive all the way to Logan Airport to meet them at the gate! Needless to say, getting through the gate was quite interesting. It's not every day that pigeons get the "royal treatment"! The research project was eventually presented at a conference in Philadelphia, Penn., at a graduate symposium at APA. I think the biggest thing that I got out of it was a philosophy that you should pursue what is meaningful to your work and your life, not letting anything get in the way of that pursuit, but appreciate and be open to the connections to people and places that it brings. It can be an amazing learning experience, wherever that road might take you. Even if you look back on it 20 years later, and not remember the details of the specific project, the opportunity to present research at a professional conference was an amazing foundation to build on. I have since presented at dozens of national and state conferences in my post-graduate life!

Did your research have an impact on what you did later?

I decided that I would not pursue working in a lab, but work hands on with people to make the most impact in making a difference in people's lives. I totally utilize what I learned through my research in terms of "think outside the box" to figure out what it takes to assist individuals in making changes in their life. Developing synergy with each individual helps a person become more self-confident and self-reliant, create community connections, and develop a fulfilling, meaningful life.

What do you remember about being on the cover of the Alumnus (assuming you remember it)?

I remember being asked about doing the cover shoot, and then remember never seeing the magazine once it went to print. I quickly forgot about it, and here, years later, you are asking me to share my story.

Anything else you'd like to add? Any advice for current students?

Take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself to you. You never know who you will meet and who will inspire you. You may find that you develop synergy with someone that will help you reach for your dreams. It may take you down a completely different road than what you set out to pursue. Do your soul's work. Pursue a career that makes your heart sing. If you feel euphoria in doing your career, you will be fulfilled in so many ways. It may not make you a rich person, but your life will be rich in ways that cannot be measured.

< Previous recipient   Next recipient >

Back to the '88 UROP stories

blog comments powered by Disqus