Before She Was Dr. Dooley, They Called Her ‘Smiley’
This series spotlights the people who educate Piedmont University students. We ask them about their childhood, their first jobs, and why they love what they do.
Dr. Debra Dooley, formerly Debra Petersen – yes Debra not Deborah, and yes Petersen with an ‘e’ — and her brother spent a lot of time playing outside and bothering their two older siblings when they were children. She was such a happy child that her family nicknamed her “Smiley.” In high school, Dr. Dooley twirled a rifle in the color guard and hung out with “the nerdy girls.”
Dr. Dooley’s mother encouraged all four children to work from an early age. When she was just 8, Dr. Dooley cleaned windows for pocket change, and at 12 started babysitting. Starting at age 16 she worked summers for the parks and recreation department and got a job in the mall in her hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, a job she stayed with through college.
“I come from a family that has a very strong work ethic. It was expected that you contribute as much as you are able,” Dooley said. “It helps develop a sense of responsibility and commitment.”
Dr. Dooley teaches geology and environmental science, subjects she said are “fundamental to understanding how our Earth operates and how our choices impact the function of earth systems.” She hopes to motivate students “to appreciate science, the outdoors, and the role geology plays in all things.”
With previous experience at large research institutions, Dr. Dooley joined Piedmont in 1996 so she could focus more on the student experience.
“The best part of being a college professor is the relationships you build with students,” Dr. Dooley said. “I was attracted to the opportunities higher education provides to help students develop the ability to think critically and problem solve, and to promote an appreciation of our natural environment and the purpose of science.”