Before They Were Educators: Jeanne Dulworth

Jeanne Dulworth began as a journalism major at Western Carolina University. After an interview with her academic adviser, however, she realized her personality did not suit the field. Instead, she chose social work.

Born in Brevard, Dulworth was raised by two teachers, who instilled in her a lifelong desire to learn. When college time came, Dulworth chose Western Carolina for her bachelor’s degree program just like her older brother and some friends of the family.

“It’s almost like being at home,” said Dulworth, who grew up in the North Carolina mountains. “As a student, I wanted to absorb everything and have a good time…”

All four years, Dulworth lived in a dormitory, using the weekends to hike, fish, camp, tube down the river, and she still does it today as a professor of WCU.

As there were very few social work master’s programs in North Carolina, Dulworth traveled to the University of South Carolina after graduating from WCU. She said she wanted a larger school environment and was teetering with the idea of majoring in both social work and law.

“I did not go there for the hot weather,” added Dulworth.

In 1998, Dulworth graduated with her master’s and jumped into the social work field. She worked in Brevard and Hendersonville at community mental health centers, functioning as a case manager for children from birth to 18 with developmental and psychological disabilities, she said. Then, she progressed into the field of a family support specialist with disabled kids from birth to five-years-old. She also counseled the parents, who grieved heavily for their children.

Dulworth said that one of her most profound cases was a boy who was born without legs. Instead, his feet were attached to his stomach. She said that they were beautiful baby feet, but she knew that eventually they would need to be amputated when he began to grow.

Other cases involved several autistic children who bit their parents out of frustration of being unable to communicate. Dulworth was moved by the parents, especially when they came full circle from wondering why God was cursing them to being thankful God had chosen them to raise a child with disabilities.

“I got to see the strength of people in incredibly difficult situations, and that was just a gift to me,” said Dulworth.

Dulworth decided she wanted to move into the teaching field soon after graduating from the University of South Carolina. There was an opening at Western Carolina, and after two semesters of teaching night classes, Dulworth became a full-time professor in 2000. She credited the social work department head, Dr. Terry Gibson, with inspiring her.

“She definitely was instrumental for me in finding a passion for social work education,” Dulworth said.

Dulworth has a multi-faceted teaching philosophy that encumbers much of what her parents taught her, including that reaching each individual and finding what makes them special is important. She is also a “big fan” of service learning because it is a “win-win situation.”

“I believe that students have as much to offer as their faculty,” said Dulworth. “That we as faculty have to come up with questions for them to think about critically and make their own conclusions. I believe that learning is a lifelong process and good teachers continue to learn every day.”

While teaching, Dulworth still volunteers with hospice.

“Most of my clients were kids that were dying,” Dulworth said. “The kids were great. Every one of them seemed to take it with such grace. It reminds me that life is precious.”

Dulworth also works with pregnant teenagers. She helps them with nutritional needs, boosting their self esteem and even filling in as a coach during the birth.

“That taught me not to be judgmental. Most of the girls on my case load were raped or the baby was conceived through incest…,” said Dulworth adding that the experience “taught me a whole lot about how you never know anyone’s story until they share it with you.”

The next chapter of Dulworth’s teaching begins in the recently opened Health and Human Sciences building on Western Carolina’s West Campus. Dulworth is excited and enthusiastic about the new building with its “phenomenal” technology and having the two programs together in order that students will “get that full perspective.”

“Teaching here at Western is one of the greatest honors of my life,” said Dulworth. “I feel so blessed to be around inspiring faculty working to change and touch the lives of students.”