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UNC professor receives award to support graduate education

Dean Steve Matson

Dean Steve Matson has been awarded the Debra W. Stewart award for Outstanding Leadership in Graduate Education. Matson has held several leadership roles throughout his career, and he's developed several initiatives for students such as the Diversity and Student Success program. Photo courtesy of Amy Stern.

The Council of Graduate Schools named Steven Matson, UNC professor and dean of the Graduate School, the third recipient of the Debra W. Stewart Award for Outstanding Leadership in Graduate Education.

Matson was awarded $4,000 to support continuing innovations at UNC.

The Debra W. Stewart Award was created in 2016 by the Council of Graduate Schools, said Katherine Hazelrigg, assistant director of communications at CGS. Hazelrigg said CGS is the only national organization dedicated fully to the advancement of master’s and doctoral research. 

At UNC, Matson is the dean of the Graduate School and a professor in the biology department. He came to UNC in 1983, where he started as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology. Over the years, he has moved through the ranks in the department.

“I became an assistant dean in academic advising,” Matson said. “In the late ’90s, I was an associate chair in the Department of Biology and became chair in the Department of Biology in 2002 until 2008, when I became dean of the Graduate School.”

Besides conducting research, Matson's career has included several other roles, including an academic adviser for undergraduates and an instructor for graduate students. 

“I’ve had a scholarly career, and I’ve done research over the years and I’ve received faculty development awards from the American Cancer Society in the late ’80s for my research program,” Matson said. "I’ve published actively over a number of years, trained graduate students and I’ve done administrative work.”

During his tenure as dean, Matson has instituted various initiatives in the Graduate School. One initiative is the new Professional Science Master’s program, which he helped start about four years ago.

“The idea of these degrees was to create a student who has a deep knowledge of science while at the same time they acquire business-like skills in the marketplace in whatever area they have received their degree in,” Matson said.

So far, there are three Professional Science Master's programs in Biomedical and Health Informatics, Toxicology and Digital Curation and Management. Students receiving the degree also take an internship the area in which they want to work. 

“We’ve been successful in implementing these degrees and hopefully we’ll have more come along as we continue to grow this particular model for creating Master’s degrees for students,” Matson said.

Another initiative created under Matson’s direction is the Diversity and Student Success program, which supports first-generation, international, underrepresented minority, military-affiliated and LGBTQ+ graduate students at UNC. 

“They all represent different aspects of diverse communities that we need them to succeed,” Matson said. “That’s what really drove the formation of the program — to put something together so we can have a positive impact on students. It’s not just worrying about getting them in the door. We need to make sure we retain our students and they complete the degree they came here to get.”

Karen Butler-Purry, associate provost of graduate studies at Texas A&M University and former chairperson of the Board of Directors of CGS, said that the Debra W. Stewart Award, named after a former President of CGS, shows long-term commitment and support and the values for the organization. She said Matson is completely deserving of the award.

“I think Dr. Matson has been a senior leader just within the graduate dean community,” Butler-Purry said. “A lot of characteristics he demonstrated are consistent with what the Debra Stewart award recognizes.”

Matson later acknowledged his gratitude towards his peers, who nominated and voted him for the award.

“From my perspective, it’s an honor to be nominated for this award from peers you work with everyday and it’s very humbling to selected by a group of national peers for the work you’ve done,” Matson said.

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