By Jenna Marina
ORLANDO, Fla. (April 20, 2017) – As the first member of her family born in America, Melonie Sexton ’07 was a first generation student at UCF when she received an email from Dean Alvin Wang about participating in a research project.
Before she graduated, Wang encouraged her to attend graduate school and continued to be her mentor, even when she moved to Tennessee to pursue a doctoral psychology program at Vanderbilt University.
Sexton, who now teaches at Valencia College, said over the last decade Wang has become more than a mentor to her. She considers him a friend.
So when she heard that the Burnett Honors College was honoring Wang’s service to the university with an endowed scholarship in his name, she knew immediately she wanted to contribute to it.
“He’s the first person outside of my family to tell me that I could actually do anything with my life. Your parents are supposed to say, ‘Yeah you’re going to be a doctor, a lawyer.’ But hearing it from a dean was the push I needed,” she said. “He deserves having a scholarship in his name. I think that’s what he embodies. It makes perfect sense to me.”
Wang announced in fall 2016 that he would be stepping down as dean by August 2017 to focus his time in the classroom as a psychology professor. At the time, the Burnett Honors College staff collaborated on the idea of a proper parting gift.
At Wednesday’s celebration of his tenure, the Burnett Honors College surprised him with the Alvin Y. Wang Endowed Scholarship, which has grown to nearly $38,000 in commitments and will support undergraduate research candidates in the honors college.
Of the 74 donors who contributed, 31 are alumni.
“This has been a great surprise. Thank you for making a gift like this to our students possible,” Wang said. “I always ask myself this question – how did someone like me, who aspired to become faculty and a professor, end up becoming a dean? The reason why I was able to stay in an administrative role for 16 years and enjoy it all the time was because of the people I was able to work with. It begins with my wonderful staff. It certainly includes the students. Meeting the talented, the interesting, the inquisitive student at Honors makes my day. It’s a very enriching, positive experience that I would never want to replace.”
Wang became a member of UCF’s faculty in 1987 and later joined the Burnett Honors College in fall 2001 as an associate dean. He served as interim dean for one year in 2005 before officially being named to the position in fall 2006.
Over the last 12 years under his leadership, the Burnett Honors College has flourished. In that time, 42 students have received national awards, including one Rhodes Scholar and 35 Fulbright Scholars.
In fall 2016, 289 National Merit Scholars were enrolled in the honors college, marking a university record and the second-most among Florida state universities that year.
Wang implemented the Burnett Honors College Medical Scholars Program, which reserves a spot for undergraduates in UCF’s College of Medicine provided that the students meet all the eligibility and performance criteria included in the program.
To enhance learning for honors students, he initiated international study abroad programs, developed service-learning opportunities and led highly successful philanthropic efforts to support new programs. In fact, three service learning trips to Nicaragua, South Africa and Mexico are slated for later this spring.
“I think Alvin would agree that the most important measures of success are the enriched academic experiences and support given to our nearly 5,500 university honors and honors in the majors student that have graduated while he’s been dean. Their dreams and accomplishments have been shaped in part by their time here at the honors college,” said Martin Dupuis, associate dean of the Burnett Honors College. “He supports everyone to excel at what they do. He established a very high professional standard by example, and those of us who have worked with him are better for it.”
Perhaps the most telling sign of his influence are those students, like Sexton, who have a pursued a path as educators themselves, following in his footsteps. Sexton said the biggest lesson she learned from him was to pay it forward.
“Be a role model and pay it forward. That’s what I try to live by,” she said. “If just one of my students said ‘Dr. Sexton said I can do it, and so I can,’ then I feel like I’ve truly paid it forward.”
Contributions are still being accepted for the Alvin Y. Wang Endowed Scholarship. Visit www.ucffoundation.org/alvinwang