Former victim now leads government's bullying prevention program

Tuesday - 5/15/2012, 8:52am EDT

Deborah Temkin, Research and Policy Coordinator, Bullying Prevention Initiatives, Education Department

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Photo by Sam Kittner/Kittner.com

Deborah Temkin leads the governmentwide campaign against bullying, working with the White House and federal agencies to educate school districts and governments at all levels on what they can do to protect young people.

Temkin is the research and policy coordinator for the Bullying Prevention Initiatives at the Education Department. She has also been nominated as a Service to America Medal finalist in the Call to Service category.

The 26-year-old said her personal experience as a victim of bullying drew her to work on anti-bullying efforts. Temkin has organized two summits on bullying prevention and led an interagency effort to create StopBullying.gov.

"Oftentimes, when I was growing up, I would blame the school for not doing enough, but I realize schools just need the resources to be told what are the best practices out there," she said in an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

The anti-bullying efforts have been building momentum — from Lady Gaga's Born this Way Foundation to the release of the movie Bully.

Part of Temkin's role is to make sure everyone is sending "consistent messages based on the best available research that's out there," she said.


Federal News Radio asked the Sammies finalists to tell us a bit about themselves.

What three words best describe your leadership philosophy?

Collaboration, expertise, perseverance.

What's the best piece of advice (or words of wisdom) you've ever received and who gave it to you?

"You'll never succeed if you don't try." I'm not sure who first told me that, most likely my parents, but I would never be where I am today if I didn't go out on a limb and work for what I wanted.

Who is your biggest role model and why?

I have two:

First, I owe all of my success to Kevin Jennings, who pioneered the Department of Education's efforts around bullying. Kevin has amazing abilities to get things done and is the most generous person I have ever met. I can only hope to achieve as much as he has.

Second, my mom. My mom always supported me, guided me and truly helped me get to where I am today. Many times when we think of the kids who are bullied we only think about bullying's impact on the child. Bullying affects everyone, including the family, and I greatly admire the way my mom handled things when I was being bullied and her tenacity to make sure I was safe is something I hope I replicate in my work generally.

What's the biggest challenge you've had to overcome (personally or professionally) and how did you overcome it?

When I was in middle school I was bullied pretty severely to the point of being very depressed and wanting to leave school. Luckily my parents were very supportive once I told them what had been going on and they helped me transfer to another school.

I was very lucky to be able to do so, but many youth don't have the option to transfer, nor should they have to, which is just part of the reason I work so hard to help everyone take action when bullying happens. Obviously, the experience of being bullied still affects me, but it drives me to do everything I can to make schools safe for all kids.

What's the last thing you read and what's next on your reading list?

I just completed my dissertation, so most of my recent reading has been research papers in the areas of aggression and victimization. This summer I'm looking forward to reading something that has nothing to do with bullying, but I am not quite sure what that will be yet.

What's your favorite bureaucratic phrase?

It's a toss-up between "clearance" and "I'll loop you in."

Meet the rest of the 2012 Sammies finalists.