Carolina's first African-American chemist
honored with lecture fund
Slayton Evans blazed a path from segregated Meridian, Miss., to Chapel Hill, where he taught and mentored scores of chemists as they began their own journeys as scientists and scholars.

A number of former colleagues and students are honoring Evans, Kenan professor of chemistry who died in 2001, and his legacy of excellence in teaching, research and service by establishing a lecture fund in his name in the Department of Chemistry.
 
Slayton Evans
 

Initiated by a generous gift from Ed Samulski, Boshamer professor of chemistry, and his wife Carol Shumate, the Slayton A. Evans Jr. Memorial Lecture Fund in Chemistry has attracted nearly $30,000 in donations to date. The chemistry department plans to schedule the inaugural Evans Lecture during the spring of 2004.

Before becoming the first African-American chemistry professor at Carolina in 1974, Evans studied at Tougaloo College, Case Western Reserve, the University of Texas at Arlington and Notre Dame. At each step along the way, he made a memorable impression on those with whom he worked.

"There was some shiny quality about him that is hard to define," said Ernest Eliel, Kenan professor emeritus of chemistry. "He was obviously a motivated guy, an eager guy, a guy who clearly wanted to succeed."

Evans' first doctoral student at Carolina, Derrick Tabor '79 (Ph.D.), recalls, "He had a wonderful gift for making undergraduate students, graduate students and his friends and colleagues feel special."

An expert in organophosphorus chemistry, his research was lauded and built upon by the community of scientists concerned with the bonding properties of organic compounds containing phosphorus. Evans' commitment to improving science education - apparent in his zeal for one-on-one mentoring, his ability to make a complex subject accessible to students and his strict adherence to the highest academic standards for himself and his students - made him a highly valued advisor to the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Evans was a champion of recruiting minority applicants to Carolina, and he was committed to ensuring their success at UNC and in their ensuing careers. As another of his doctoral students, Jeff Kelly '86 (Ph.D.), currently a professor of chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute, said, "Slayton was a model professor. He had very high standards and demanded excellence from his students. I would not be in academia today had I not been mentored by Slayton Evans."

Evans' ability to teach his students about science as well as how to excel professionally earned him the respect of students and colleagues alike. His goal was always to bring out the best in his students, to demonstrate how far they could go if they believed in their own abilities.

While at Carolina, Evans served as chair of the Pogue Scholarship selection committee (1988-99), member of the Morehead Foundation central selection committee (1988-97) and member of the board of directors of the Arts and Sciences Foundation (1994-2001).

Evans also served as chair of the U.S. National Committee of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the highly regarded volunteer organization that works to standardize the terminology and practices of chemical research. Terms, names and standards of measurements for newly discovered chemicals and chemical compounds are chosen by the IUPAC to eliminate confusion among researchers.

He garnered many awards during his career, including the Tanner Award for Teaching Excellence, the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Education and the Special Creativity Award in Organophosphorus Chemistry from the National Science Foundation.

But in the end the formal honors Evans received are less significant than the lasting influence he has had on the lives of those with whom he shared his passion for learning.

Jim Magaw '89

Contributions to the Slayton A. Evans Jr. Memorial Lecture Fund can be sent to the Arts and Sciences Foundation, CB 6115, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-6115. For more information, contact the foundation at 919-962-0108.