EKU Online’ s 2017 Outstanding Student of the Year Award was presented to Deborah Blanchard, an undergraduate student majoring in Corrections & Juvenile Justice.
Tim Matthews, the executive director of the Office of EKU Online, remembered teaching one of Deborah’s courses. “As an instructor, you start each class with new energy and a renewed sense of hope that you can somehow inspire students to be their best selves. What you don’t always expect is that one of your students will inspire you to be your best self. She did this for me,” he said before presenting her with the award.
Like many EKU Online students, Deborah had an unusual career path. In fact, hers was even more unique than most. She worked as a performer at Tokyo Disneyland for a number of years as a dancer and character entertainer. “My mother was Japanese, and I lived with her when I was younger,” she explained.
When Deborah returned to the United States, she moved to Eastern Kentucky to be closer to her father. She earned her GED and found a job with one of the largest employers in the area, the Kentucky Department of Corrections (KYDOC). She currently works at the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex (EKCC). She’s also a member of the Correctional Emergency Response Team. “Everyone is surprised by my transition,” she said of her career choices.
In actuality, criminal justice is a perfect fit for Deborah because she values working with people and wants to make a difference. She decided to earn a bachelor’s degree in the field to position herself for advancement.
She came to EKU as a transfer student. “As a fulltime student and an employee, I was having difficulty completing my courses at the college I was attending. A coworker recommended EKU’s online program, and I had heard great reviews,” she said, adding that the program has a good reputation among those in the criminal justice field.
She has gone above and beyond in her course work, adding a second major, as well as certificates in correctional intervention strategies and youth services and a minor in police studies. “I absolutely love the program. It is structured in a way that makes navigation and access very easy,” Deborah said. She also appreciates the quality of the course work.
Her instructors challenged her to be her very best. “It was difficult at times, but I am thankful for that extra push. I feel as though I have gained more knowledge and reading and writing skills from those compassionate instructors,” she said.
Deborah was nominated for the 2017 EKU Online Outstanding Student Award by Dr. Betsy Matthews, coordinator of the EKU Online Corrections and Juvenile Justice program. “As a fulltime correctional officer, she was able to bring her real life experiences into the discussion, which other students appreciated,” said Dr. Matthews.
One of the benefits of online education is that it appeals to older students with professional experience. This creates a dynamic learning environment for both instructors and students. Deborah frequently references the course material, as well as her own perspective, in her assignments.
“Her discussion board and blog posts are extremely rich and demonstrate deep critical thinking about the issues being discussed,” added Dr. Matthews.
The EKU program approaches learning as a partnership between the students and their instructor. “You must put the effort in to do well. Your learning experience will depend on your effort, and you will get out of it what you put into it,” said Deborah.
Tim Matthews believes Deborah has a bright future ahead of her. “Her long-term goal is to be in a position to affect change in the criminal justice system. From my perspective, we can’t get here there fast enough,” he said.