Giving Spotlight: The Sheryl Lanman Nichols Memorial Fellowship
The Sheryl Lanman Nichols Memorial Fellowship to Empower Survivors of Domestic Violence carries on the legacy of Sheryl Lanman MSW’10 by training social work graduate students to support and advocate for survivors of domestic violence. This fellowship was established by her parents Sandra DC ’72, SC&I ’03 and Steven RC ’71 Lanman, husband Justin Nichols and friend Marissa Lieberman Broman RC ’03.
Read Sheryl's story below.
“My name is Saggy Bag. I like to talk to my freind Sheryl. When I am crying, she asks me whats the matter. She helps me cure my problums.”
When 8-year-old Sheryl Lanman wrote those words in her second-grade journal, little did she know how presciently they described her future path in life.
At East Brunswick High School, Sheryl loved her psychology courses. She excelled and was able to get a head start on her major at Rutgers College. After arriving on campus in 1999, she plunged into psychology and chose Spanish and sociology as minors.
As an undergraduate, she joined 56 Place – now Scarlet Listeners – a student-staffed hotline that offers peer counseling to fellow students. By her senior year, Sheryl was helping to train new peer counselors.
Scarlet Listeners often referred students in crisis to professionals and outside agencies. One of them was Women Aware in New Brunswick, which serves women and families affected by domestic violence. Sheryl began working at the shelter on weekends, helping women who were escaping abusive situations.
Sheryl excelled at Rutgers, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and other honor societies. She spent a semester in Spain, honing her language skills, which would continue to be an asset. She graduated in 2003 and began working fulltime for Women Aware and volunteering with New Brunswick’s Domestic Violence Response Team. She also took time to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in the Dominican Republic to help build houses and also improve her language skills so she could better serve Latina women in her job.
Knowing she couldn’t gain more responsibility without an advanced degree, Sheryl decided in 2008 to pursue a master’s degree fulltime at the School of Social Work. While there, she worked on research projects for the Center for Violence Against Women and Children that involved traveling around the country to interview women affected by domestic violence.
Graduation in 2010 was a joyous time. Sheryl was joined by her family and husband-to-be, Justin Nichols, when she received her MSW and would soon become a licensed social worker. Not long after, she began working as a bilingual social worker for Womanspace, the Mercer County agency providing services to survivors of domestic violence. She was determined to become a licensed clinical social worker so she could fulfill her dream of becoming a therapist. She and Justin bought a townhouse and began planning their wedding and future together.
But their joy was interrupted in September 2012, a month before their October 13 wedding. Sheryl was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Her doctors assured her it was caught early and she would be fine.
Though she would have to begin chemotherapy when she returned from her honeymoon, Sheryl remained upbeat and optimistic. She was certain she would beat the disease and continued working during her treatments.
But a year after her diagnosis, Sheryl learned her cancer had spread to her liver. Over the next two years, she would undergo more chemotherapy and debilitating treatments and surgeries to keep it at bay. Though she was now on permanent disability, she remained upbeat, with her trademark smile and laugh even as the cancer spread to her brain and affected her ability to walk. Her desire to help others remained strong. When her health rallied, she began training as a volunteer child advocate for CASA, a role she would never get to fulfill.
Sheryl died on August 18, 2015, at the age of 34. Following her death, her second-grade journal was found among her school papers. Her family and friends were struck at how closely Sheryl’s path in life had mirrored the words she wrote as a child who wanted to help others cure their problems.
If you would like to honor Sheryl's legacy by supporting our students in their work with survivors of domestic violence, please consider making a gift to the fund in her name.