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Debbie Eisenberg Merion, MSW '78, Writer and Teacher

Debbie Eisenberg Merion, MSW '78

As Debbie Eisenberg Merion sees it, the School of Social Work provided right-on training for her career as a teacher and writer.

“Each of our classes required lots of writing,” she recalls. “I found I liked organizing my thoughts on paper.” After graduation, she applied that skill as a grant writer, enjoying the challenge of fitting unique and compelling arguments into a prescribed structure.

But opportunities were limited. (“People seek grants because they need money, not because they have money,” she notes.) Merion segued to writing computer hardware and software manuals and marketing materials. By 2000 she began teaching Advanced Technical Communication at Washtenaw Community College.

So, how does this relate to her MSW? Merion worked for (now Professor Emeritus) Sydney Bernard as a sociology undergraduate. “I liked him, and I liked the idea of helping people.” She chose social services administration and recalls “a very positive experience. I felt like I fit in there.” 

Yet her passion for writing persisted. Now, Merion draws upon her social work skills to help people through teaching and writing.

The best example is her latest venture, Essay Coaching. For years, friends have sought her advice when writing college admissions essays. “These are smart, successful people who find it challenging to write about themselves. I do not do any of the writing for them,” she emphasizes. “I listen to their stories, ask lots of questions, offer feedback and encouragement. They end up expressing themselves in a genuine, interesting way and bring out their best.”

In addition to working with writers one-on-one, Merion has developed writing workshops and continues her career as a freelance writer and journalist, publishing some 50 articles and short stories over the past decade. She has also written and produced short videos, specializing in humorous biographical and travel documentaries.

Concurrently, Merion and her husband Bob, a transplant surgeon at U-M, have raised two daughters: Alison, a photographer in Los Angeles, and Sarah, entering Northeastern University in Boston.

Merion draws on her social work experience every day: “I’m using three sets of skills,” she reflects. “Research skills—using libraries, individuals, and the Internet. Financial skills, because running a nonprofit parallels managing a small freelance business. And especially people skills—listening and interviewing in a nonjudgmental way.

“I can see as I look back almost thirty years that some dedicated and caring people at the School of Social Work ended up having a huge, positive effect on my life.”

—Pat Materka, a former U-M staff member, is a freelance writer who owns and operates the Ann Arbor Bed and Breakfast

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