COLA Connections Newsletter: May 2014

2014 College of Liberal Arts Distinguished Alumna - Dr. Debra Heath-Thornton

RIT has been “the institution that set the fountain for my life and career,” said Dr. Debra Heath-Thornton.

Heath-Thornton was named the 2014 College of Liberal Arts Distinguished Alumna. She graduated in 1981 with a B.S. in Criminal Justice and is now the Executive Dean of the Campolo College of Graduate and Professional Studies at Eastern University in the Philadelphia region of Pennsylvania.

After graduating from RIT,  Heath-Thornton achieved a fulfilling career in the Criminal Justice Field. She worked as a Victim Advocate before completing her Master’s degree in Criminal Justice at the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She then became a Criminal Justice Administrator, a position that put her in charge of all criminal justice system operations in a county law enforcement agency.

Eventually becoming a certified teacher in Erie County, Heath-Thornton taught and developed a criminal justice program. Subsequently moving into higher education, she taught at three institutions. “I developed criminal justice programming with a restorative justice focus in each position,” she said.

After completing her doctoral degree in Higher Education Administration at the University of Rochester in 2002, Heath-Thornton was led to her current position as the Executive Dean of the Campolo College of Graduate and Professional Studies at Eastern University.

“I was drawn to my current position because of Campolo College’s mission to provide quality higher education to people and groups who have historically been underserved,” she said. “The college offers in-community higher education to many who are desirous but who lack the resources to fulfill their academic goals.”

In her time at Easter University’s, Dr. Heath-Thornton has made lasting contributions to the school.

“My tenure as Campolo College’s Executive Dean has included involvement in campus-wide strategic planning initiatives,” she said. “These events have refocused institutional mission efforts, clarifies our core value commitments, aligned key areas of the university, and focused enrollment efforts.”

Dr. Heath-Thornton has done extensive research in the area of restorative justice. Her research, along with her successes in the criminal justice field are what have led her to being the 2014 College of Liberal Arts Distinguished Alumna.

“I was pleasantly surprised. I guess I’ve been so busy ‘doing’ that I didn’t realize that anyone was actually noticing,” she said.

During her recent visit to RIT, Heath-Thornton saw a “much livelier criminal justice experience” than she recalls in the past.

“RIT has changed in magnanimous ways! The demographics in the United States is shifting and I’m please that my alma mater appears to get that message in ways I don’t always see across academic institutions.”

“Kudos to RIT! I left campus proud to be a tiger!”