Dr. Debra Lee-DiStefano was involved in many things while a student at Southeast Missouri State University, including the Multi-Cultural Association, Japanese Student Association and the Malaysian Student Association.
“I was never around American students during my time at Southeast,” she says. “My undergraduate experience at Southeast completely directed my future research interests of combining Spanish with the study of Asians in the Americas.”
After earning her Bachelor of Science in Spanish from Southeast, she went on to the University of Missouri in Columbia where she earned her master’s degree and her doctoral degree in Spanish as well.
Debbie is a native of Doniphan, Mo., and she says this is another reason she chose to teach at Southeast.
“I wanted to give back to my region. I grew up very poor. I want these kids in our region to understand they can be successful if they work smart and hard,” she says.
She values education and one of her proudest moments was when she received her doctoral degree. “So many people where I am from do not graduate from high school,” she says.
Some of Debbie’s academic areas of interest are cultural studies, diaspora studies, post-colonial studies and Asians in Latin America. Her dissertation was titled “When East Meets West: An Examination of the Poetry of the Asian Diaspora in Spanish America.”
As a professor, Debbie describes her style as “fun and fair.” She believes in having fun while learning and maintaining an atmosphere that is conducive to learning. She expects her students to abide by rules and have proper behavior, but she also believes in having fun in the classroom.
In her free time, she loves to travel, with one of her favorite destinations being Peru. She hopes to one day have an apartment there. She’s also been to the Dominican Republic, and she even she took some of her students there.
Debbie also enjoys traveling with her two children, giving them experiences she didn’t have as a child. She encourages her students to take advantage of the opportunities to travel while in school.
Debbie offers this advice to Southeast students:
“Travel now. Don't wait until you have a full-time job. So many people wait, and then mortgages get in the way or you can't get the time off. The Department of Global Cultures and Languages and the College of Business offer many affordable opportunities,” she says.
“Also learn all that you can. You may be here to get a job, but your primary focus should be to learn. Facts are important to know, even though you can Google anything. Develop critical thinking skills while you are here, and get outside your comfort zone,” she says.
“We are in a global community, and you need to be able to adapt as you encounter new things. Southeast Missouri isn't as isolated as it used to be,” she said.