If you look at a list of the highest paid state employees in the United States, you’ll mostly see football and basketball coaches. While these people are seen as valuable because of their ability to coach a winning team or recruit talented athletes to play for free, I think the country’s most valuable state employee has very little at all to do with athletics. His name is Dr. Scott Slovic, and he is the new English Department Chair at the University of Idaho. When I was a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno, he was the chair of my graduate committee and the kindest and most warm-hearted person on campus.
Scott grew up in Eugene, Oregon where his father is a professor at the University of Oregon. He earned his bachelor degree at Stanford and was on the track team there for three years. He was also a Fullbright Scholar three times, once in Japan, once in Germany, and once in China. He earned his Masters and PhD at Brown University in Rhode Island and has been the rock star of environmental literature ever since. Just being in the same room with the guy is a treat, and students from all over the world travel thousands of miles to learn from him and be inspired to find their own ways to help improve the world.
When I decided to go to Reno for graduate school, the location of the city on a map of the American West was one of my primary reasons, but I remembered Scott’s name on their faculty list because I used one of his essays about Edward Abbey on my undergraduate honors thesis about Edward Abbey and Arizona’s Glen Canyon Dam. I was beyond happy when Scott was named as my academic mentor during my first year as a graduate student. That first semester, I took his Native American Literature course, and he always went out of the way to help me, even though I was far from the academic all-star like many of his other students. Much of it is my own fault, but graduate school was really hard for me, and I rarely felt like I belonged. I wasn’t a good student in high school, and even though I did really well as a thirty-year-old undergrad, I went to a non-traditional college in Little Rock and never was the oldest student in the class. But Scott kind of took me under his wing and really helped me. He vouched for me and helped me begin my teaching career. There were a few times when I was dealing with some tough situations, and he would invite me over to his house for breakfast, and I could talk about my issues and receive positive feedback from him and his amazing wife, Susie.
The amazing thing to me is that he is doing things like this all the time. I’ve been around him and have heard his phone buzz every time he gets an important email. He gets hundreds of important emails a week from all over the world. He is just as much a diplomat as an extremely intelligent scholar, and I think he should be working for the government to promote global ways to improve the environment. He lectures all around the world about environmental literature, sustainability, wilderness, and many other important topics. When I had the honor to spend time with him this past June at his home in Moscow, Idaho, he had just finished spending a month in China where he inspired many young academics to pay attention to the way that environment is depicted in literature. He does things like this all the time and has been basically everywhere. Scott served as the founding president of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (Asle). He has published more than 200 books and is the author, co-author, or editor of twenty-one books. He also serves on the editorial board for eleven different scholarly journals.
One thing that I think is super awesome about Scott is that he hasn’t let any of this go to his head. He’s a super nice person and is helpful, positive, and encouraging to hundreds, if not thousands of people around the world. I know some other professors who couldn’t hold his pencil sharpener but think they’re God’s gift to academics. He is very humble in his daily awesomeness, and that is why I believe that he is the most valuable state paid employee in the country.