Journalism and public relations professional to realize academic dream

Deborah A. Higgins
March 19, 2009

The answer was simple and sincere, but those four encouraging words have helped Deborah A. Higgins ’09 realize her lifetime goal of earning a bachelor’s degree from Misericordia University.

Several years ago, an admission counselor’s straightforward response — “of course you can’’ — encouraged Higgins to stay on task and push an educational journey that began 25 years ago as an adult student forward.

The Center for Adult and Continuing Education at Misericordia University recognized Higgins’ hard work and perseverance by naming her the Outstanding Adult Learner of the Year for 2009. On May 16, the 57-year-old wife, mother, grandmother and media professional will earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications at Misericordia’s 83rd annual Commencement ceremony.

The professional journalist and public and community relations coordinator for the Wilkes-Barre Area School District says the support and encouragement she received from faculty and staff helped keep her remain on track throughout a long and sometimes arduous academic journey that spanned more than 25 years.

“For me, it has been a lifelong personal goal to earn my MU degree,” she explains.

The daughter of Andrew and Amelia Petroski, Higgins grew up in the Back Mountain and remembers seeing the Chapel and majestic buildings on the beautiful 124-acre campus. She made a promise to herself to one day be a student there. “As long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a Misericordia student,’’ she acknowledges, “and now I am going to be a graduate. What a satisfying feeling.”

Higgins earned her high school diploma in 1970 from Lake Lehman High School, and soon married Ted Higgins. She started taking college classes in the early 1980s and first enrolled at Misericordia in 1992, “sporadically taking classes at the campus, and at other schools including Luzerne County Community College,” she says.

She soon found herself balancing the obligations of being a wife and mother of two daughters, working part-time at night as a reporter at The Citizens’ Voice newspaper, and caring for her mother who was suffering from a terminal illness, all while taking classes. She eventually earned her associate’s degree in Liberal Arts at LCCC.

“It was the support of people, such as Dr. Dick Crew, chairman of the Misericordia Communications Department, and Tom O’Neill and Larree Brown, in the Misericordia Center for Adult and Continuing Education, who encouraged me and inspired me to continue,’’ Higgins says. “They couldn’t have been more accommodating and supportive. I truly believe that without their help, I might not have stuck it out.”

Higgin’s 17-year newspaper career included working first as a stringer, then reporter and features writer at The Citizens’ Voice, culminating as the coordinator for the Newspapers in Education program, which works with teachers and students throughout the newspaper’s service region. Her love of working with young people lead to a natural career change, when she took on the position as public and community relations coordinator for the Wilkes-Barre Area School District in 2005. She notes that there, too, she received encouragement.

“Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Namey has been exceptionally supportive as I have worked toward my bachelor’s degree, a goal that was not necessarily professionally inspired, just a personal dream,’’ Higgins says. “I can’t thank him enough for his understanding.”

Higgins calls her job very rewarding and is honored to be responsible for informing the public of all that the district’s 7,000 students, staff and faculty accomplish. She also helps coordinate special projects throughout the district, such the annual Women’s History Month observance.

Deborah and Ted live in Chase, Pa. They have two daughters, Misericordia graduate Theodora Higgins McCoy ’07, Psychology, and Michaelene Higgins Shirey. The are also the happy grandparents of three granddaughters.

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