Mother of three finds new direction, career through Laurel Ridge

amanda dearaway

An inspirational professor and the challenges faced by family members have inspired 2018 Laurel Ridge honors graduate Amanda Dearaway to pursue a path of compassion.

The Old Dominion University student is studying psychology and hopes to become a clinical psychologist. She is well on her way.

After graduating summa cum laude from Lord Fairfax, the mother of three was able to seamlessly transfer into the psychology program at ODU, which maintains an office for its online programs at Laurel Ridge’s Middletown Campus. Until recently, Dearaway worked as a community engagement specialist in that office.

“I just really fell in love with the community here at the college,” Dearaway says. “When it was time for me to graduate, I didn’t want to leave.”

She describes herself as “a very non-traditional student.”

It had been about two decades since Dearaway had been in school. She dropped out of Warren County High School when she became pregnant her senior year. Dearaway obtained her GED in 1998, and attended a trade school, earning her certificate in business computer applications.

Dearaway worked as an administrator with an engineering firm, and later served as operations manager for a winery for more than four years, which she loved.

However, she left that job to devote herself to caring for her brother Michael, who would die from brain cancer in 2016. After he died, Dearaway was unsure of her future path.

“I was just driving by Laurel Ridge one day, and I just whipped in the parking lot and said, ‘I’m going to go back to school and get my degree,’” she recalls. “And I didn’t look back.”

Lord Fairfax had the right programs and people in place to ensure she succeeded. As a first-generation college student, Dearaway, now the mother of three, qualified for the TRiO program, which provides additional advising, tutoring, transfer and other assistance to students who are first-generation college students, low-income or have a documented disability.

As a student, Dearaway served as an officer in national honor society Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) and volunteered with the Student Ambassadors program. She received the Distinguished Graduate in Psychology Award.

“I was very, very involved on campus, and I really loved my professors,” Dearaway says of her time at Laurel Ridge.

Dearaway initially planned to become a registered dietitian but then met Associate Professor of Psychology Loretta Duncan, who had a great impact on her. Dearaway took several courses with her, including developmental psychology and abnormal psychology.

Besides Professor Duncan, she cites Chemistry Professor Ernie Grisdale and Speech Professor Andrea Ludwick – both of whom recently retired – and her PTK advisors Professor Jim Brumbaugh and Professor Jenni VanCuren as favorites.

“The professors here were amazing, and they sincerely were very passionate about what they did, giving you everything you needed to be successful,” Dearaway says. “The tutoring services were amazing.”

And thanks to instructor Eunice Myers, and professors Frank Borleske and Cyril Petras, she says she’s “not intimidated by math anymore.”

Dearaway’s career path has also been inspired by the grief counselor who helped her in the wake of her brother’s death, and from seeing how mental illness and drug addiction have affected close family members.

“There is such a need for mental health care everywhere,” she says. “Everywhere. It needs to be made more of a public health issue. It’s a social problem. It’s definitely an issue in my family, and one that’s close to my heart. I don’t think there’s anybody who hasn’t been affected by it.”

Now working full-time in her new job as a customer service representative for a Front Royal firm, Dearaway is also taking a full load of online courses.

She hopes to earn her master’s degree in counseling from Eastern Mennonite University with plans to become a clinical psychologist and help others heal.

“I know my brother would be super-proud of me,” Dearaway says. “My family is very, very proud.”