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Donna L. Harrington, professor and associate dean at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, dies

Donna L. Harrington, professor and associate dean at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, dies
Dr. Donna Harrington was an associate dean and professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. (Handout)

Donna L. Harrington, associate dean and professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work who mentored students for two decades, died from cancer on March 30 at her home in the Hanover community of Anne Arundel County. She was 54.

Richard Barth, dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work, said Dr. Harrington led the school's post-doctoral and Ph.D. programs, and was "an excellent scholar and educator."

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"She had tremendous statistical skills and wrote textbooks about them. She gave her students the statistical support they need to achieve their goals so they could make a difference in society," said Dr. Barth, a resident of Poplar Hill.

"Her areas of expertise were child abuse and neglect and childhood development," he said. "She was sought after by people from all over the country."

Dr. Geoffrey L Grief, a Ruxton resident and professor at the school of social work since 1984, said Dr. Harrington was "diligent, hardworking and caring, and was able to show concern for every student with whom she came in contact."

"Personally and professionally, she was understated and allowed others to grow when they were in her presence," he said.

Donna Lee Harrington was the daughter of Robert Harrington, a long-distance truck driver, and Pauline Christopoulos Harrington, an employee for the state of Maine. She was born in Gardiner, Maine, and raised in Readfield, Maine.

After graduating from local public schools, she obtained a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1985 from the University of Maine at Orono, where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

She enrolled at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and in 1990 obtained a Ph.D. in applied developmental psychology.

After graduating from UMBC, Dr. Harrington began her post-doctoral career in the pediatrics department of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. There, she held positions as a project director, clinical instructor and research assistant professor. The focus of her work was on "failure-to-thrive" children in Baltimore.

She left the department in 1995 when she moved full time to the school of social work. She rose through the ranks until being named a full professor in 2006.

In addition to her teaching and mentoring of students, Dr. Harrington was director of the Ruth H. Young Child Welfare Center in Baltimore from 2000 to 2006, and was Ph.D. program director from 2007 to 2013. She was associate dean for doctoral and post-doctoral education from 2013 to 2017.

During her time as associate dean and Ph.D. program director, she overhauled the doctoral training program, and it improved in national ranking to No. 17 out of 237 programs. She designed the program around creation of a supportive environment for doctoral students, and this philosophy drew students to the university from around the world.

Dr. Harrington took great joy in working directly with students — whom she call her "ducks."

In addition to teaching, she served as chair on 38 dissertation committees, co-chair on nine others, and on the committees of 45 other dissertations. She assisted nine more as an outside member.

She once explained her theory of mentoring: "It should always be about what is best for the mentee, intrinsically motivated by the desire to support the mentee. I recognize the incredible responsibility and privilege that comes with mentoring, and I am extremely grateful for the many opportunities to serve."

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"She was a very sincere person, and because she was from Maine, was a straight shooter," Dr. Barth said. "She valued people and respected their feedback. She was relatively quiet but was also warm in her way. She was a very generous person, and easy to get a smile from."

Dr. Jodi J. Frey, a Towson resident and associate professor at the school of social work, knew Dr. Harrington for 11 years.

"I did my Ph.D. here and she was my professor and mentor and our relationship just evolved," Dr. Frey said. "She was one of the key people who encouraged me to seek a Ph.D. She was probably one of the most kindest and giving people at school."

Dr. Harrington's office door was always open.

"She was caring and generous with her time. She was never too busy," Dr. Frey said. "She'd say, 'Come on in and sit down and let's talk about it.' She made you feel as though you were the center of the universe.

"You could ask her questions and she was always very patient. No question was too silly to ask," she said. "Sometime you could be intimidated by a senior faculty, but she never made you feel that you couldn't ask her that question."

Dr. Harrington liked to tell people that her students were her "legacy."

She was recognized for her work in 2005 when the university presented her its Outstanding Mentor Award. In 2008, 2009 and 2010 she was given the school of social work's Dean's Teaching Award. She was also the university's Teacher of the Year in 2009 for the advancement of doctoral education in social work, and received the award in 2018 for mentoring of doctoral students.

"Through her pain and struggle she continued talking with her students as long as she was physically able," Dr. Frey said.

She was author of "Confirmatory Factor Analysis" and co-author of "Ethical Decisions for Social Work Practice."

She was also an accomplished quilter who donated quilts she made to Backpacks of Love for local children who were entering foster care. She also enjoyed sharing her handiwork with family, friends and colleagues.

"When she gave her students their diploma, she also gave them a quilt," Dr. Barth said.

She and her husband of 13 years, Kenneth M. "Ken" Brawn, a software developer, enjoyed traveling.

Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at the Gary L. Kaufman Funeral Home, 7250 Washington Blvd., Elkridge.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by her brother, Robert Harrington II of Readfield, Maine; her stepmother, Karen Harrington of Manchester, Maine; and a nephew.

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