Debra Heinrich (M.A., M.Ed. ’84) knows how hard it is for veterans to transition from the battlefield to civilian life. Members of her own family have served in the military, and more recently, she and her husband, George, have become involved with the Yellow Ribbon program, through which colleges and universities make additional funds available for veterans’ education without an additional charge to their GI Bill entitlement.
“We’ve gotten to know some of the veterans, and they tell us it can be really difficult going back to school when everyone else in your classes is so much younger, or when you’re trying to support your family at the same time,” she says.
Now the Heinrichs have endowed a scholarship to support students who work at Teachers College’s Resilience Center for Veterans and Families. The Resilience Center’s research – led by psychologist George Bonanno, one of the world’s foremost authorities on human emotional resilience and recovery from trauma and loss – focuses on how people cope with extreme life events and on the ability of individuals to adjust psychologically and to perform well under different circumstances. Through Teachers College’s nationally regarded Dean Hope Center for Educational & Psychological Services, which offers training programs in clinical and counseling psychology, the Teachers College Resilience Center recruits and trains its top students to counsel veterans and their families.
We’ve gotten to know some of the veterans, and they tell us it can be really difficult going back to school when everyone else in your classes is so much younger, or when you’re trying to support your family at the same time.
Debra is also struck by how Professor Bonanno involves students in his work and helps them launch their careers – much in the manner of her own TC mentor, nursing professor Eugene V. Martin. Martin’s teaching inspired Heinrich – a working nurse who received TC’s Professional Nurse Traineeship scholarship – to become a nurse educator herself.
“He was so supportive of me and he made an enormous difference in my life,” she says. “I’m grateful to TC for having such great teachers like him. And without the scholarship, I could not have graduated,” she says. “That’s why I donate to TC.”
After graduating from Teachers College, Heinrich had a rewarding career, working for many years as a nursing instructor for Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. “That job required a master’s degree, so I could not have had it otherwise,” she says. “TC helped me have a great career and I believe in supporting institutions that helped me.”
Heinrich also worked at Montefiore Hospital and held a faculty position at Hunter College School of Nursing before leaving to spend time with her sons Andrew and Marc, both of whom graduated from Columbia College. She remains involved in Sigma Theta Tau International, the Honor Society of Nursing.
Over the years, Heinrich has become increasingly involved with TC. In addition to supporting the Resilience Center, she is a member of the President’s Advisory Council and during 2013 served on the College’s 125th Anniversary Steering Committee. With George, whom she praises for his “dedication to giving back,” she also established The Heinrich Scholarship in memory of her parents, Sylvia and Sid Stromberg. “They were inspiring parents who instilled in their children a lifelong love of learning,” she says. The Heinrichs also give to the TC Fund.
“Teachers College has branched out in so many exciting ways since I was a student here,” she says. “Columbia is a great university that offers so many opportunities to its students, and TC is a much stronger school than when I was there. So I’m happy to do what I can to support the college, and I hope my gifts encourage others to give.”