James Madison University

When Work and Hobbies Meld Perfectly: Debbie Sturm

Debbie's hobbies include swimming, biking, running, participating in triathlons, doing yoga, camping, and traveling to places that emphasize nature, such as Oregon and Washington State. She loves being active and immersing herself in nature and even met her husband, Phil, at the starting line of a triathlon in 2001. They connected after the race while awaiting their awards. She received first for women, and he came in third for men.

Growing up in a small, safe town, Debbie and her siblings were allowed to explore nature as children, especially during the summers. This instilled in her an appreciation for nature and activity at a young age, though she wasn't fully aware of the depth of that appreciation until she read Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv as an adult. She has since come to consciously appreciate nature and an active lifestyle, acknowledging that she gets antsy if she goes too long without access to fresh air or being able to move around.

This connectedness with nature plays a huge role in her involvement on campus and in the Graduate Psychology Department at James Madison University, where she now serves as the Programs Director and Coordinator of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program. She has written and presented on nature connectedness and has incorporated it into her classes, where she can see changes in her students as they realize the roll nature plays in their lives. She is also leading a study abroad trip, through the JMU Honors Program, to Malta where students will study nature on a personal and global level, is working on a book proposal on nature connectedness and counseling, and is incredibly excited to soon attend a conference on children in nature, the guest speaker for which is none other than Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods. Additionally, she has helped a student pursuing her EdS degree with a project on nature connectedness, narcissistic traits, and empathy. The student found that time spent in nature did contribute to development of empathy, which is something that Debbie seems to have developed fully through her childhood roaming free outdoors.

Her empathy is part of why Debbie became involved in psychology, specifically in counseling. She began her undergraduate studies at the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania pursuing a degree in psychology; however, she changed her major to communications, in which she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. From there, she worked as a paralegal for ten years. During this time, she developed a close relationship with a counselor and realized that she wanted to be able to help people in the same way that this counselor was able to. She went back to school and earned her MA in Community Counseling and then earned her PhD in Counseling and Supervision at UNC-Charlotte. With her doctorate, Debbie was able to begin working in academia, teaching at the University of South Carolina. She later moved to Harrisonburg to work in the James Madison University Graduate Psychology Department and to serve as the Faculty in Residence for Shenandoah Hall, a dorm reserved mostly for honors students.

During the coming summer, Debbie and her husband plan on moving out of Shenandoah Hall and into their own home in Harrisonburg. Since they will no longer be living on campus, Debbie will finally be able to get a Golden Retriever puppy, who will be named Madison. Debbie intends to use Madison in her counseling. Puppies do, after all, tend to make people smile.