Psychologists and counselors help people at their darkest moments, and Donna Washburn is right in the trenches of those battles.
As chairwoman of the behavioral and social sciences department at Evangel University, Washburn leads hundreds of students as they enter the field.
“Each year, I am able to mentor, educate, supervise and speak into the lives of counseling and social work students who will be working with the most vulnerable in our community,” she says of the largest department at Evangel. “Sometimes it is to inspire them that the work they are doing is that of calling and should be done with passion and dedication. Other times, it is to challenge them to strive for excellence with their clients often in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.”
Washburn, who earned a doctorate in 2015, also finds rewarding work consulting and supervising practicing clinicians.
“Success is measured in the improvement of lives of those who are in crisis and often on the brink of collapse,” she says.
After two years as a social worker and therapist, Washburn joined Evangel in 2001 as an associate professor and field coordinator. Her talents were noticed, and when former department chairman Jeff Fulks moved to a different position, Washburn says he recommended her for the promotion.
“The one thing that I really feel blessed about is how Evangel empowers women to be in leadership on this campus,” she says. “In my almost 17 years here at Evangel, I have never felt that because I’m female I didn’t have the same opportunities as my male counterparts.”
She says it starts with administrators, including President Carol Taylor.
“She does a lot of professional development for the female leaders on this campus,” Washburn says. “I hear horror stories at other universities – not necessarily in Springfield, but from colleagues across the United States – where women are passed over. I feel like we have a really great, supportive environment for women in leadership.”
During Washburn’s tenure, the department has grown enrollment and staff levels, now serving 325 students. Psychology is the university’s largest major, with 107 students.
“I really believe in empowering my faculty and staff. My idea of leadership is to highlight the strengths of the people who work for me and let them do what they do well – and I want to get out of their way,” she says. “I don’t like to micromanage and I don’t like to make them do things the way I do things.”
At the 2011 Evangel commencement, the university further acknowledged Washburn with the Orville Mills Young Faculty Award.
“I’m happy being here and feeling like I’m living out where God has placed me,” she says.
Sharing her gifts with others, Washburn also has provided her expertise and served on the boards of civic organizations. Last year, she was appointed to a southwest Missouri Department of Social Services Child Abuse and Neglect Review Board, which provides an independent review of such claims.
“It is an honor to serve the state of Missouri in this capacity” she says. “And to be an advocate for those who often aren’t able to do so themselves.”
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