August 25, 2019

Kelli Slunt: Formula for Success

Kelli Slunt, chemistry professor and inaugural director of UMW's Honors Program. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Kelli Slunt, chemistry professor and inaugural director of UMW’s Honors Program. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

When Kelli Slunt ’91 first came to Mary Washington, she was a biology major who hoped to study medicine. Her plans changed over the years, but she has found a perfect chemistry with the dual roles she now holds at her alma mater. As the inaugural director of UMW’s Honors Program, the chemistry professor helps aspiring doctors – not to mention teachers, lawyers, engineers and more – find seamless pathways to success.

Along with Assistant Director Mara Scanlon and Program Coordinator Amanda Ronay, Slunt works with the admissions office to recruit, select and welcome young scholars whom they will spend the next four years guiding to their goals. She also teaches honors service learning courses – which are open to all students – and plans co-curricular events, field trips and other programs.

First-year Honors students will have a quick immersion into the program – and life at UMW – when City as Text starts next week. The nationally recognized experiential learning initiative, now in its second year at Mary Washington, gives them a chance to explore Fredericksburg and share their observations. This year’s program also will include Campus as Text, and added opportunities for discussion and reflection.

Under Slunt’s direction, the Honors Program has flourished. Alumni are enrolled in medical schools at Penn State, University of Maryland and Eastern Virginia, and in elite graduate programs across the globe. They receive early selection to George Washington University School of Medicine, thanks to an agreement with UMW, and find work at such entities as Dahlgren, the Department of Justice and the American Psychological Association.

“Mary Washington is a place where faculty and students develop strong working and mentoring relationships,” Slunt said. “I appreciated the ability to work one-on-one with a faculty member on a research project when I was an undergraduate. Opportunities like those are why students continue to choose UMW.”

 

Q: When did you become interested in chemistry?
A: I was in a summer research program at UVA while I was a Mary Washington student. The experience working on the synthesis of anticancer drugs was a game-changer for me.

Q: What brought you back to UMW?
A: Raymond Scott, former chemistry chair, brought his students to an undergraduate research poster session at UVA when I was in graduate school. I mentioned I’d like to teach chemistry, and he offered me a visiting faculty position that eventually turned tenure track. I currently split my time between teaching one chemistry lab and lecture per semester, and running the Honors Program.

Q: How has teaching chemistry prepared you to lead the Honors Program?
A: I’ve taught general education courses in which I’ve interacted with a diverse group of students – not just STEM majors – and it renewed my appreciation for the liberal arts.

Q: What’s next for the Honors Program?
A: We just moved to a more central and visible location, next to the bookstore in Lee Hall. We are excited to welcome 102 new Honors Scholars to UMW.

Q: Are you excited about the Jepson Science Center renovation nearing completion?
A: I’m looking forward to having a dedicated lab. During the renovation, I’d have to teach using a cart I brought in weekly.

Q: What’s your favorite thing in your office?
A: A photo of my father-in-law dancing with me at my wedding. He had changed out of his tuxedo into shorts and a T-shirt, but he didn’t want to miss a dance with me.

 

 

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