By Stephanie McMillen
Debra Hollister, professor of psychology at the Lake Nona Campus, is a faculty member who is interested in motivating students to learn for the sake of learning.
She first joined Valencia as a student after graduating from Boone High School. When she completed her associates degree in general studies, Debra went on to attend the University of Central Florida (UCF) where she earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology, as well as a doctorate in curriculum and instruction.
“I worked in the community mental health setting for several years prior to beginning as an adjunct on Valencia’s East Campus,” Debra said. Since beginning her career here in 1982, Debra has become a full-time psychology faculty and now works at the Collegiate Academy at Lake Nona High School – an accelerated academic program that provides advanced educational opportunities to Lake Nona High School students.
“The Collegiate Academy at Lake Nona is an amazing place to work,” Debra said. “We have a small group of professors and staff that all work together, [and] are busy getting ready to open our new campus this fall.”
Debra finds all components of teaching at Valencia fulfilling because it further demonstrates the broad spectrum of influence that psychology has. “It is reinforcing when students discover this connection and take this information with them in their future careers,” she said.
Last year, Debra and her colleague Brian Macon, professor of mathematics at Lake Nona, received an Endowed Chair for Learning Leadership that allowed them to help a group of students determine their educational and career pathways – a struggle that many new students often have.
Together, Debra and Brian worked to enhance the students’ college experience by providing assistance and guidance through the stress of their first year. Most importantly, they helped students choose the college degree that they need to obtain the professional career they desire.
Through a series of self-assessments, the students were able to learn about different aspects of their lives, from time management and self-worth, to critical thinking and learning preferences.
“This project has demonstrated that students want to be successful, but do not always know what options they have to be able to flourish in their college careers,” Debra explained.
Debra has also been involved in other projects that have enhanced the student experience, such as developing internship positions that involve animal training and animal husbandry at both SeaWorld and Busch Gardens. Through these internships, students gain an understanding of how important psychology is, not only in their lives but in diverse areas such as animal training.
Debra and her husband have two children and as a family they enjoy many different interests and activities including golf, water sports and traveling. Debra is happy to report that her son is working on his doctorate in computer engineering, while her daughter recently earned a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Florida.
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