When Lelia “Nikki” Wyne Dymczynski ’11 was a senior in high school, Shenandoah University was one of her college prospects, and after visiting the campus she knew it was the place for her. “On my first visit, Dr. Bousquet and some of his students were rescuing a bird from a gutter,” said Dymczynski. “I thought, ‘these are my kind of people,’ and knew I was home.”
Dymczynski’s fondest memories as a student were worshiping at Goodson Chapel, learning Spanish, participating in the Global Citizenship Project, volunteering in the Winchester community and studying abroad in Argentina. She lived on campus for all four years and had a blast with her friends in the residence halls, some of whom are still her closest friends today.
Dymczynski is thankful that she learned Spanish while at Shenandoah because it’s a skill she frequently uses in her profession. However, when starting her education, she thought she wasn’t capable of learning another language. Department Chair of Language and Cultural Studies and Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies Andrea M. Smith, Ph.D., Professor of Hispanic Studies Bryan Pearce-Gonzales, Ph.D., and Professor Emerita of Foreign Language Ann St. Clair Lesman, Ph.D., changed her perspective.
“Their persistence and dedication helped me develop the confidence to dive into the language, and it opened up a whole new world for me,” said Dymczynski. “The Spanish professors made me feel valued, powerful, and important as a woman. Dr. Smith always encouraged me to do things that were difficult or uncomfortable. She would listen to my concerns and value my interests.”
Dymczynski is a probation and parole officer at the District 11 Probation and Parole Office in Winchester, Virginia. In her position, she supervises convicted felons who are on court-ordered probation or parole. She specializes in cases with clients who have mental health problems.
Though being a probation and parole officer is sometimes a very difficult job, Dymczynski says she loves what she does and can’t imagine doing anything else. “You encounter many sad, distressing situations,” said Dymczynski. “Sometimes you have to be persistent with with people who have lost hope so that they can develop self-worth and begin to believe in themselves. It is worth the hard work when you see clients make changes in their lives and blossom. It is such a blessing to witness this beautiful transformation in a person.”
Shenandoah prepared Dymczynski for her career by giving her the skills and knowledge to be a criminal justice professional. More importantly, Shenandoah helped her become a more understanding and thoughtful person. “My experiences at Shenandoah helped me challenge my fears,” said Dymczynski. “I am a bolder leader and more confident person because of my experiences at Shenandoah.”
Dymczynski’s advice to students is: “SU has so many opportunities. Take advantage of anything and everything you can, even if it doesn’t seem to relate to your major. You will take unexpected lessons from it and become a more well-rounded individual.”