James Madison University

NEW COLLEGES FORMED A plan to reorganize the College of Integrated Science and Technology into two colleges took effect July 1, 2012. The new colleges are the College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.


Dr. Grayson receives Virginia Women in History Award

By: Beth Principi
Posted: April 13, 2009

PHOTO: Joann GraysonDriving two and a half hours with two crates of chicks in the backseat of your car may sound bizarre to some, but to Dr. Joann Hess Grayson and the fourth grade class at Island Creek Elementary School in Alexandria it was the start of a wonderful relationship.

This fourth-grade class was given an assignment to find someone to nominate for the Virginia Women in History Award for 2009.  The class decided they wanted to nominate someone who worked with children, so they went on the web and started typing in phrases like “child advocacy” and “child protection.”   Dr. Grayson’s name continued to pop up.

After finding out she was nominated, Grayson was invited to visit the school and talk to the children about child protection.   “Doing a workshop for the children was the most fun I had all year,” said Grayson.  “They were so attentive, so well behaved and so polite, and they asked many questions”

Grayson brought along some of her chicks to illustrate an aspect of child protection by showing the differences between chicks that were orphans (from an incubator) and chicks with a protective parent (with the mother hen).  The students got to name the chickens, and the names ranged from ‘McNugget’ to ‘Peepers.’  Having eighteen chicks in a classroom of fourth-graders could have been a recipe for disaster.  “I said no matter what the chicks did, if they chose to hold one then they had to hang on to it,” said Grayson.  “Nobody dropped a chick.  The whole experience just worked out great.” 

 In the fall of 2008, Grayson found out she was to be awarded the Virginia Women in History Award for 2009.
The award, with past recipients such as Martha Washington, Dolly Madison and Katie Couric, is given annually to eight women in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  All these women are recognized for their outstanding performance in all different walks of life.

Dr. Grayson’s walk began over thirty years ago when she first came to James Madison University (then Madison College) in 1976.  She took a teaching position as a professor in psychology and then was asked by the chair of the department to teach a summer workshop about Child Abuse and Neglect.  Virginia had just enacted a Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting law at the time. 

“The department head thought teachers would be interested in the topic of child maltreatment and knowing how to fulfill the responsibility of reporting, so we offered a summer course,” said Grayson.  The course was so successful that the university wanted to start offering it during the regular semester with Grayson as the professor.

“ Child protection efforts were just beginning back at that time.  A group that became Prevent Child Abuse Virginia was forming and they heard I was teaching this course and asked if I wanted to help them form an advocacy group,” said Grayson. “Then I talked to people at the state department of social services, and they asked if I wanted to serve on some committees.  So one thing led to another and I started to get very involved in state and local child abuse prevention efforts.”

Grayson began to serve on the Governor's Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect in 1983, and did so until 1993. She was appointed to the Board by three different governors.

She also learned of the availability of the Virginia Child Protection Newsletter (VCPN) grant, which was previously published by the University of Virginia.  Grayson and Charlotte McNulty, who was a former student in the graduate psychology program, decided to submit the grant. The grant was awarded and since 1981 Grayson has been the publisher and editor of the Virginia Child Protection Newsletter, which is still published today at JMU.

“ I’m able to talk with people across the state and across the nation about models that they are using to offer innovative service and solve problems,” said Grayson.  “There are over 12,000 subscribers to VCPN. To be able to reach that many people with this newsletter is very gratifying. I have met such wonderful people editing this publication.”

Besides serving on committees and publishing the newsletter, Grayson has written over eighty articles and chapters on child abuse and neglect prevention.  She wrote a grant titled the Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Family Support Center, which started 11 different prevention services within existing agencies.

“We thought it would be better if we used the grant to start services within existing agencies,” said Grayson.  “That way the agencies could pilot test the service and determine if it was something they would want to continue.  Then we wouldn’t be starting something that would end in a year.”   Many of the original 11 services are still in existence today, helping people throughout Rockingham and Harrisonburg County. 

Grayson was one of a group of people who started First Step, Inc., a shelter for abused women. She also assisted in starting Citizens Against Sexual Assault (now the Collins Center). Students worked on all of the early efforts and their enthusiasm led Grayson to begin formal service learning courses through JMU’s Psychology Department.

 Dr. Grayson established the field placement program in the psychology department because she understood the importance of learning through service.

“Service learning has a number of advantages for students,” said Grayson.  “It allows students to integrate what they are learning in the classroom with service delivery models that are actually in operation.”

Through field placements and the courses she has taught, Grayson has gained the respect of her students and colleagues, as well as those outside of the JMU network.  In 2004, she was awarded with one of Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Awards and in 2006 the Carnegie Foundation named her Virginia Professor of the Year.

With the Virginia Women in History award, Grayson continues to look back to the children who nominated her.   “I think it is phenomenal to be nominated.  It was very special that a group of children found me.”