Darlene Dockery is driven by a passion to move learners across the lifespan toward their goals, with a particular focus on serving gifted students from low socio-economic backgrounds.
She has seen firsthand how education can change the trajectory of a family. “My parents were both GED graduates and my earliest memories include them getting home from work, bathing, feeding us, and then going out to night school,” she said. “I grew up believing that I was going to college because of my parents’ confidence that I would, completely oblivious to the economic realities that could be a barrier.”
And graduate, she did. After completing her bachelor’s degree in Public Policy at Duke University, Dockery’s first job was as a prison counselor. She saw that low academic achievement was common among inmates but that many were serving expertly as teaching assistants, law clerks, and even as department managers. Some had committed complex and well-planned crimes.
“I wondered what would have happened if those gifts had been positively channeled,” she said.
After serving in various non-profits and schools as teacher, program manager and consultant, she became eager to help prepare others to become teachers and advocates for children. That brought her to the W&M Center for Gifted Education and the doctoral program in gifted education.
While her coursework was pivotal in expanding her thinking and transforming her into a scholar, she points to her experiences working with Camp Launch as the most influential of her time at William & Mary.
A two-week residential summer camp for low-income, high-ability middle-schoolers, the Center for Gifted Education’s Camp Launch aligned perfectly with Dockery’s interests. Working with the center’s staff, she helped develop the program, served as an assistant director, and participated in research studies on the effectiveness of the program.
“To see students get that spark and start to have faith that they can go to college one day was so powerful to watch, and so affirming of the impetus that brought me to William & Mary,” she said. “For many of these students, Camp Launch may be the difference between whether their trajectory is a college pipeline or a prison pipeline.”
Completing her degree has not been without significant challenges. A single mother, Dockery felt like she was constantly “juggling glass balls.” She found ways to serve the university in the evenings, becoming a reviewer for the William & Mary Educational Review and mentoring Chinese students through the Reves Center. Friends, classmates and faculty members provided support and helped guide her through the most difficult times.
Now that she’s poised to receive her degree, she hopes to serve in higher education teaching pre-service and in-service teachers. She’s also planning to establish a nonprofit organization that will provide educational enrichment opportunities that develop critical and creative thinking and provide a cradle to college/career pipeline.
But first? She plans to “take a day and celebrate this milestone, and then take a nap!”