The Consummate Educator

A lifelong advocate for education and the consummate teacher with a deep passion to explore and to teach what she found to others, Dr. Doreen Turnbo, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, retired in December of 2018.

Dr. Doreen Turnbo
Dr. Doreen Turnbo

Her legacy is a thriving college offering hundreds of sections of general education courses, five minors, two certificates, and five degree programs, including communication, liberal studies associate and bachelor degrees, a master’s in teaching English to speakers of other languages, and an Environmental Science and Policy degree.

This deep love of learning has always been with her — guiding her to teach English as a Second Language at many Air Force bases where she and her husband, Mickey, were stationed during his time in the military, and also fostering a child with multiple disabilities while raising their two children. After her husband’s retirement, Dr. Turnbo wanted to study to be a nurse. But, as things often happen, that goal changed slightly and she found herself studying to be a high school science teacher.

“I loved biology and genetics,” Dr. Turnbo says. “I love the study of it, I loved everything about it.” Her children were also in high school at the time. “They kept saying, ‘Mom, are you sure you want to do this?’” she laughs. Yes, she did, earning her bachelor’s in biology, and she was soon teaching biology and physical science in the Appoquinimink School District.

“I did love the time I was teaching,” she says, but a fellowship came her way through the State of Delaware, and Dr. Turnbo found herself writing school curriculum for the Water Resource Department of the Department of Natural Resources. She traveled to schools throughout the state, helping teachers to understand the curriculum, and doing activities with the students to teach them the importance of water conservation — where water comes from, where it goes, she says. “All the water we have is all the water we’ll ever have,” she adds. “People don’t realize we’re only missing one gallon of water on this earth because they took it to the moon.”

The fellowship ended, and she had started on her master’s in education at then- Wilmington College. She also found a position working as a WilmU adjunct instructor, teaching science. The first dean, George Bellenger, tasked her with designing a three-credit environmental science course without a lab, and later she put together the first science lab in the People’s building.

“Then I got called by Dr. Jack Varsalona to come in for 90 days to fill in for an employee in the Advising Department,” Dr. Turnbo remembers. She walked in and didn’t leave for 15 years, during which she earned her Ed.D. and later became director of Advising. “It was fun, but intense. There were many days I was in the office at 7:30 a.m. and students would be waiting,” she says.

Dr. Turnbo and her team, which totaled three in the early years, including her, would work until 6 p.m. many days and rarely take a break. Students were registered for classes by hand. “No computers,” she laughs. Over time, the college matured, changed its name to Wilmington University, divisions became colleges, and student enrollment increased.

And then in 2011, former Provost Dr. Betty Caffo asked her if she wanted to become dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.

“I knew, as a science major, that being in an area with general education courses, I could really do that,” she says. “I taught public speaking and science, and I loved every minute of it.”
Dr. Turnbo says she answered yes to the question before Caffo even finished it. “And she asked if I wanted to talk it over with my husband and I said no,” she smiles.

Heading up the college allowed her a different opportunity. “It allowed me to still serve the university,” she says of becoming dean. “It was a different kind of job, just what I needed and I loved it. I have loved it the whole time.”

Her thoughts, though, are always on the students, and that’s where the University’s future lies. “We have to be willing to make changes to meet the challenges of the careers out there, the ones we don’t even know exist,” she says. Much of what she put into motion has been just that — helping hundreds of students to find advancement and fulfillment in their careers.

It’s really only about one thing, Dr. Turnbo says.

“We’re here for the students, and the connection we make with the students,” she says, encouraging staff and faculty to do this in a spirit of enjoyment in helping others. “The student needs to remain the center of our focus. That’s the key.”

-Janice Colvin