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Sociology Professor Kate Slevin receives state’s top award

From the very beginning of her first sociology class as an undergraduate student, Kate Slevin found something that totally captivated her.

She calls her first encounter with the discipline “love at first sight.”

Now 28 years into a distinguished career of academia, that passion continues to grow for Slevin, who has spent nearly 20 years at the College of William and Mary, including six as chair of the sociology department. In recognition of her dedication to teaching, scholarship and service, Slevin was named Tuesday as a winner of Virginia’s highest honor for faculty at public colleges and universities.

Slevin, the Chancellor Professor of Sociology, was selected as one of a dozen statewide recipients of the 2005 Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award sponsored by Dominion. Since the award program began 18 years ago, 25 faculty members at William and Mary have received the annual honor. The award is administered by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, or SCHEV.

"The dedication of our faculty and their commitment to educational excellence is what truly makes William and Mary a remarkable place for each of our students," said William and Mary Provost P. Geoffrey Feiss. "Kate Slevin is an exemplar of this commitment to students first. She has the respect of both her colleagues and students for her unstinting work on behalf of a diverse and vibrant campus community. Her standards are high; her willingness to participate in faculty governance is legendary; and her stature as a faculty mentor is unchallenged. I can think of neither a better representative of the College of William and Mary nor a more deserving winner of this prestigious award."

The Virginia General Assembly and the governor created the Outstanding Faculty Award in 1986. Since the first presentation in 1987, 217 faculty members in Virginia’s colleges and universities have been honored. This year, 12 faculty members from across the state were selected from a competitive pool of 110 candidates who are all nominated by their peers at Virginia’s colleges. Statewide, there are nearly 11,000 full-time faculty members. Winners must demonstrate a record of “superior accomplishments in teaching, research and public service.”

Slevin was honored Tuesday during a ceremony in the Old Senate Chamber at the State Capitol in Richmond and a luncheon with Gov. Mark Warner. The recipients receive a specially designed plaque and a $5,000 award.

Slevin took her first sociology class during her second year at University College in Dublin, Ireland. She says the class immediately changed the way she approached life and school. She thought about the world in a more critical, informed way. She found a discipline that made her want to read beyond regular assignments.

It’s a passion that Slevin brings to each of her classes at William and Mary.

“Not only have I not lost that passion for my discipline, it has continued to grow,” Slevin said. “I wish no less for my students. My challenge each time I enter the classroom is to share with my students the excitement that sociology provides me both as a teacher and as a scholar and researcher. I covet the opportunity to both model intellectual engagement for students and to encourage them to actively engage in critical thinking – at least about one discipline.”

Even since her earliest days as a faculty member at the University of Richmond, Slevin has been known as an outstanding teacher inside the classroom and a sought after academic advisor and mentor outside of the classroom. At William and Mary, her courses regularly command lengthy waiting lists of students aware of her reputation as a challenging teacher who requires active student participation and a professor who encourages lively classroom discussion.

“I strive to help students become critical observers and consumers of their cultures and those of others,” Slevin said. “I address this goal by providing a variety of readings and critiques that allow us to discuss and debate the ways that we come to understand and know our culture or society and those of others.”

Slevin started her career in higher education in 1975 as an assistant professor at the University of Richmond. In 1981, Slevin left Richmond to take the job as Academic Coordinator of SCHEV. In 1986, Slevin came to William and Mary as the Associate Provost for Academic Affairs. She joined the sociology department in 1990 as an associate professor and director of its graduate program. From 1997-2003, Slevin served as chair.

”Her tenure as chair was defined by a creative and well-articulated vision for the future of her department, by a commitment to students and their needs, by an unswerving dedication to excellence in teaching and research among her faculty colleagues, and by a too-rare willingness among chairs to confront difficult issues,” Feiss said. “She inherited a department with many senior faculty about to retire and left behind one full of young, energetic faculty molded into a community of scholar teachers who place student interests first.”

Since joining the sociology department, Slevin has taught at all levels of the curriculum, including graduate seminars in social theory and graduate public policy seminars on race and gender. She regularly teaches undergraduate courses focusing on the principles of sociology and the sociology of aging or work. In addition to her teaching, Slevin is widely known for her mentorship of both students and faculty members. To date, she has also chaired two master’s theses and eleven honors theses and has served as a member of 25 additional honors committees.

“I benefited from her teaching skills, but just as much from the lessons she taught me about life,” said one former student. “She made me realize that vocalizing ideas and having open discussions was the best way to learn. She is a model for every educator.”

The author of several journal articles, book chapters and two books, Slevin’s scholarship is widely considered to be cutting edge. She has become a pioneer in the area of research on gender and aging and “Gender, Social Inequalities, and Aging,” a book she co-authored with Toni Calasanti, has received praise from national experts for exploring how the experience of men and women in later life varies extremely based on gender, race, class and sexual orientation.

The winner of numerous honors during her teaching career, Slevin recently received the 2004-05 Phi Beta Kappa Award for Excellence in Teaching, which is given annually to a faculty member William and Mary who shows a sustained excellence in classroom teaching, research collaboration and mentorship. She also received the Outstanding Woman in Government Award from the Virginia Commission on the Status of Women and Virginia Women Attorneys Association in 1984, and the Distinguished Educator Award from Richmond in 1981. Slevin earned her undergraduate degree in sociology from University College and master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Georgia. She has two grown children and lives in Williamsburg with her husband, Robert Yeomans, who is a health administrator with Riverside Health System.

© 2015 The College of William & Mary