From left: Lee Slocum, Steven Vance and Sarah Butler

From left: Lee Slocum, Steven Vance and Sarah Butler were named the May recipients of the the UMSL Hero Award. Each will receive an UMSL Hero lapel pin in recognition of their contributions. (Photos by August Jennewein)

University of Missouri–St. Louis Chancellor Kristin Sobolik and her cabinet continue to recognize the exemplary efforts of staff and faculty members from across campus by bestowing the UMSL Hero Award on up to three individuals each month.

This month’s honorees are Sarah Butler, coordinator of the Testing Center; Steven Vance, custodian with Maintenance Services; and Lee Slocum, professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Sarah Butler, Testing Center coordinator

Sarah Butler first stepped foot on the UMSL campus in 2012 as a student. After earning her BS in history, she applied for a testing job at Jefferson College, got hired and liked the work.

Then, in 2017, when the coordinator role opened up at UMSL, she made the jump.

“I really enjoy being in a customer-facing or student-facing office,” Butler said. “We get a lot of interesting students. Our professional clientele is also really interesting and fun, and you’re always meeting new people. I really like the numbers side of it, taking all the data and everything and trying to turn it into something.”

When she arrived on campus, her first act was to modernize the center’s data storage, taking the hard copy system in place and digitizing it – doing lots of organization and updates in the process. That analysis revealed that the Testing Center administers over 15,000 exams per year, more than any of the other three University of Missouri System campuses, and those insights have since helped Butler receive approval to hire a second full-time employee.

Keeta Holmes, assistant vice provost for academic innovation and director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, highlighted Butler’s actions during the coronavirus pandemic that allowed the testing center to stay open safely as well as the overall scope of her efforts.

“On the surface, this seems like a simple enterprise, but it is far from simple,” Holmes wrote. “Her work applies a complex calculus of coordinating dynamically changing schedules, adapting for a variety of student accommodations, keeping track of detailed instructor requirements for exams, and communicating with students and faculty to ensure transparency in how testing happens. She is one of the most dedicated colleagues I know.”

Butler, who is working on her master’s degree in adult and higher education at UMSL, feels grateful to be selected for the Hero Award and happy with everything the center has accomplished.

“I’m really proud of everything we’ve done,” she said. “I’m proud of how much more efficient I’ve helped make our department and let it be known that we’re a valuable service for faculty and students, and community clientele as well.”

Steven Vance, custodian

Upon learning he’d been named an UMSL Hero, Steven Vance’s first reaction was surprise.

“It was just surprising because, as long as I’ve been in this type of work, I never got recognized for my achievements,” he said. “I’ve never been employee of the month. It was a game changer. I never knew they pay attention, so I’m really honored that I was recognized for the hard work I put in to keep up the campus.”

Vance started working at UMSL in 2019 after being recruited from the St. Louis Public Schools after the wife of an UMSL supervisor noticed the quality of his work.

His strength in quickly learning and recalling the intricacies of buildings and campus has made him the go-to guy when spaces need attention outside of his regular routine. During the pandemic, he’s paid extra care in cleaning surfaces such as sanitizing elevator buttons, handrails and other high-traffic surfaces so that the UMSL community remains healthy and safe.

Maintenance Supervisor Tracy Lato in custodial services noted Vance’s positive attitude and pride in his work.

“Always willing to help, Steve is the first person to pitch in when custodians are shorthanded, and he’s willing to cover other responsibilities to keep UMSL clean, maintained and safe,” he wrote. “Furthermore, through prior work experiences, Steve has brought many best practices to UMSL where he strives to increase performance, continuously teaching and enriching the wider facility team. Humble by nature, Steve is well liked within his peer group and a top performer with outstanding attendance. Steve is a model employee and one we are proud to have on our team.”

Vance’s entry into the profession came earlier than most – he was 10 years old when his father, a supervisor, introduced Vance to the trade.

“He taught me everything that I know far as how to clean detail,” he said. “How to scrub floors, wax, carpet cleaning and things like that. So, as I came up there came a liking for it, and I take pride in doing what I do.”

Lee Slocum, professor of criminology and criminal Justice 

The reputation of the UMSL Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice drew Lee Slocum to St. Louis in 2007, straight out of graduate school at the University of Maryland.

“I was lucky enough to get hired,” Slocum said. “I really love it. We’ve had a lot of great students over the years, and working with students has been really important and rewarding. My colleagues in the department are great, and my time here has benefited me in a number of ways.”

Slocum comes to CCJ through a background in sociology and an interest in understanding what makes individuals break the law and what happens when they do. She’s since specialized in police-citizen relations, developmental criminology and research methods.

She’s done significant work with the community inside and outside UMSL, including with Beyond Housing and the St. Louis City Department of Health. Working with the external community is important to Slocum.

“There are so many great agencies out working to better the community,” she said. “Being able to help them with their mission is just a way of giving back, and seeing how research can be put into action to help people is rewarding.”

Beth Huebner, a professor of criminology and criminal justice, highlighted Slocum’s community work in her nomination. She also noted Slocum’s relationships with her students.

“Lee is a critical part of the UMSL community,” Huebner wrote. “Her inclusive teaching style has made her a favorite among students. It is her ability to excel at community service and teaching that make her a hero.”

Slocum, who has also taught statistics, says that helping students understand that stats is just a “slightly different language” that they can learn is one of her favorite parts of teaching.

The surprise that her students feel on learning they can tackle the subject might be a little more familiar now to Slocum, who felt similarly upon receiving Chancellor Kristin Sobolik’s email notifying her of the award.

“I did not know I had been nominated,” Slocum said with a laugh. “It was a nice thing to see in my email and an honor to be recognized.”

Jessica Rogen

Jessica Rogen