Carl Pettis was frustrated after he got his first test grade in Susan Slattery's college calculus class.
"It was not good," he said. "She chewed me out for silly mistakes." But Pettis credits Slattery's tough instruction at Alabama State University as a big factor in his rise to academic success.
Slattery, who had moved onto a position as mathematics department chairwoman at Stevenson University, died in an Ohio car accident Monday. At Alabama State — where Pettis is now the interim chair for the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science — and at Stevenson, the academic community is mourning her loss.
According to news reports from Streetsboro, near Cleveland, police officers said Slattery's car was hit by a tractor-trailer and then careened into another truck. Slattery was trapped in the vehicle and had no pulse by the time paramedics reached her, the reports said. Her two sons, Matthew, 12, and Peter, 16, were traveling with her and remain hospitalized in serious condition.
Few students had returned to Stevenson's Baltimore County campus for the fall semester and most academic buildings were locked on Wednesday, but a statement issued on the school's website called Slattery a "vital force" who "worked tirelessly to engage students and colleagues in the pursuit of academic excellence and collegiality." She had been at Stevenson since 2005.
The campus is "in shock and is very saddened by the loss," said John Buettner, spokesman with Stevenson University. "She touched a lot of students."
Earlier this year, Slattery organized a program for middle-school students in collaboration with the Living Classrooms Foundation, and regularly managed a summer science camp for Baltimore students in the sixth through the eighth grades.
She wrote numerous papers and book reviews, led faculty workshops, and contributed enormously to Stevenson's endeavors, the university's website said.
Slattery completed her bachelor's and master's degrees at Miami University in Ohio and her doctorate in mathematics at the University of South Carolina. She joined Stevenson University after serving as an associate professor at Alabama State, where students returned to class on Wednesday.
"The ASU family was deeply saddened to hear the news," Pettis said. Even though she moved on to do great things, she was definitely missed here. Faculty members are definitely moved — she has not been forgotten," he said.
In a statement of her academic philosophy, Slattery once wrote that students "must believe that they have an advocate who will ensure that the education they receive is consistent" with professional and national standards and is "delivered in a fair and unbiased manner."
Pettis, who first studied under Slattery in 1999, said she not only encouraged him, but also advised him on career decisions. As a student in Slattery's class, Pettis said, "you felt like she cared about you," adding that "she didn't mind sharing her personality inside the classroom. A lot of professors are not like that — she opened the door to students."
Martina Blackburn, an administrative secretary for the Alabama State mathematics department also remembered Slattery, saying that "she was a hard-working person."
Blackburn recalled when Slattery had outpatient surgery and returned "directly to the classroom. … She just hobbled in" and taught.
Blackburn said her two sons were in a science program that Slattery managed, which took younger kids on science-related field trips, including one to a NASA facility.
"It was a wonderful time; we hated to see her go," Blackburn said. While neither of her sons went on to pursue careers in math, Blackburn said, the program "pushed them further up the ladder in other ways."
Blackburn said Slattery was not only dedicated to teaching; she was dedicated to her family. "She talked about them non-stop," Blackburn said. "I just hate so bad that she was in this terrible, unfortunate accident. We will miss her."
Chuck Stembler, assistant principal at Calvert Hall College High School in Towson, where Slattery's elder son, Peter, will be a junior, said the school community plans to join a vigil that St. Joseph's parish in Cockeysville is planning. Slattery's younger son, Matthew, is a student at St. Joseph's School.
"Clearly our thoughts and prayers are with the family," Stembler said. "Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot we can do" now, since the family remains in Ohio, he said.
Slattery is also survived by her husband, Edward, and a stepdaughter and stepson. Plans for funeral services and a campus memorial are being arranged.