Kevin Chapman ’00 and Matisa Olinger Wilbon ’97 are making waves in the world of education.
Chapman was recently named associate professor and director of the Center for Mental Health Disparities at the University of Louisville, and now holds the honor of being the first African-American professor in the school’s department of psychological and brain sciences to receive tenure. Wilbon, an associate professor of sociology, was recently awarded tenure at Bellarmine University, making her the first graduate of Centre’s anthropology and sociology program to become a tenured professor of sociology, and has also been appointed head of the Brown Scholars Program at the university.
“I am proud to be the first African American in the department to be awarded tenure” Chapman says. “I am committed to paving the way for other African-Americans as well as other students of color to do the same.”
“I did not set out to accomplish ‘firsts’ in my life, although I have had the great privilege and honor to have done so: the first to graduate from college in my family, the first to obtain graduate degrees among my generation within my family and now the first to receive tenure from my beloved anthro/soc department at Centre,” Wilbon says. “Being the first in these areas only means the path has been paved for those who will become the second, third and fourth.”
Wilbon enjoys putting her research to good use, which she is doing with a project involving Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“My areas of interest include parent/child relationships, peer interaction, religiosity and adolescent risky behavior. I am currently working on a research project with Big Brothers Big Sisters Kentuckiana, examining the training and match support of Bigs so as to determine best practices in mentoring,” she says. “Research shows that matches between Bigs and Littles that end early—within three months—have a negative impact on youth who already may be susceptible to risk factors. Sustained matches, however, decrease the likelihood of poor academic performance, lowered self-esteem and substance and/or alcohol use among youth.”
For Chapman, the opportunity to work with many different people and areas has been highly fulfilling.
“The most interesting aspect of being a professor in my experience is the levels of influence that I can have on students, the community, my profession and society,” he says. “Being a clinical psychologist, I am trained as a scientist-practitioner, in which I teach both undergraduates and graduate students, run a program of research, engage in sports psychology with UofL Athletics, make appearances on the Power to Change Show and train students to see clients with mental health concerns. Therefore, I have awesome flexibility as a professor.”
Wilbon credits Centre with helping her realize her interest in anthropology and sociology.
“I entered Centre as a government major and English minor with a career in law as my goal. Thankfully, I took a class with Beau Weston called African American Society the second semester of my sophomore year and it changed my life. That semester, everything clicked for me,” Wilbon says. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career after that, but I knew I would become a sociologist—whatever that meant.
“That same semester Beau told me about a research opportunity through the American Sociological Association (ASA),” Wilbon continues. “The program’s mission was to engage students of color who attended small liberal arts colleges in sociological research. The hope was that the college would be transformed to foster and nurture future sociologists of color and that the students participating in the program would eventually obtain graduate degrees in sociology. The summer of that year I conducted a research project at Penn State University, which was extended when I became a John C. Young Scholar at Centre. That same project was eventually developed into my Master’s thesis and, ultimately, my doctoral dissertation. The rest is history.”
In the end, though, the honors and awards are secondary for Chapman and Wilbon, who find that the real reward is doing the work they love.
“I tell my students all of the time that the most important pursuit in life is not notoriety or fame, but passion,” Wilbon says. “Passion will lead one right to his/her purpose and I am extremely blessed to be living my purpose with passion. That means more to me than anything.”