A Journey into Education
Dennis Slattery’s connection to SOU spans over four decades. He has not only been a cornerstone of the university but a shining example of how a sustained commitment to exceptional teaching and generosity can transform the lives of SOU students.
Fresh out of the US Navy with plans to return to his roots in Alaska, Dennis came to Ashland in 1977. He enrolled at SOU that fall, only to be abruptly dropped halfway through the term, as the university determined he was not an Oregon resident. This experience would later inspire Dennis to advocate for a change in residency rules for military veterans—a testament to his dedication to both the university and his fellow veterans.
Dennis then entered the hospitality industry where he joined the team of the Ashland Hills Inn, a newly opened establishment at the time. Over the next few years, he oscillated between academic pursuits and career opportunities, earning promotions as well as gaining a wealth of experiences. While Dennis playfully quips about his perceived inability to focus, his journey in and out of SOU has been a demonstration of his ever-evolving nature—a quality that would serve him well as an educator and active community member.
In the early 80s, Dennis joined SOU’s President’s Advisory Committee, and during this period, the committee crafted a strategic plan that would significantly impact the university’s trajectory. While Dennis wasn’t a student at the time, his participation underscored his genuine concern for SOU’s future. Dennis went on to complete his Bachelor’s and MBA at SOU further solidifying his commitment to SOU.
In 2003, while browsing the university’s website, Dennis stumbled upon a tenure-track accounting professor position. Although initially not selected for the role, fortunately for SOU and Dennis, the chosen candidate withdrew, and Dennis stepped into the position, marking the beginning of his career as a professor.
Teaching as Mentorship
Dennis’s transition from student to professor was seamless. He embraced the role with an enthusiasm that transcends conventional teaching. For him, it was not just a profession—it was a calling. When asked about his favorite aspect of teaching, Dennis’s response is immediate—mentorship and advising students. He acknowledges the unique challenge of teaching accounting, often describing the field as the “broccoli” of academic subjects. Despite the initial reluctance of students, Dennis has been on a mission to demystify accounting and reveal its approachability and even, its enjoyment.
For Dennis, teaching is not about imparting knowledge but helping students discover their own paths to learning. He highlights his role as one that involves understanding each student’s distinctive learning process. Dennis’s teaching philosophy revolves around the idea that accounting, like any subject, can be engaging and accessible. Dennis says,
“I offer my students a lifetime commitment, akin to a lifetime warranty rather than a money-back guarantee. This means they can return at any time to engage in discussions and seek guidance. It’s my personal way of fostering lasting connections.”
Dennis believes in the strength of the SOU community, not just as a place of education but as a caring and supportive environment. A commitment to personalized education is a hallmark of the SOU community, where professors like Dennis take the time to mentor and guide students on their educational journeys, creating a strong and supportive learning community that endures over time.
For example, Dennis shares the remarkable stories of the “two Brittanys” he taught. One aspired to a career in international business and juggled her MBA studies with overseas assignments, maintaining constant communication with Dennis. The other Brittany was an exceptional accounting student with MBA aspirations, driven by her desire to balance motherhood with a fulfilling career. Both achieved their goals, showcasing the potential within each student to fulfill their aspirations. He says,
“I’ve learned to listen attentively, to care more deeply, and to collaborate in finding solutions. It’s about debugging the issues, understanding the core problems, and determining a real course of action. This process doesn’t just exist in my mind; it’s a reflection of the many life lessons I’ve gathered throughout my journey.”
Investing in Community
Dennis Slattery’s perspective on the SOU community is evidence of his deep connection to the university. He acknowledges that not everything is perfect, but he emphasizes the remarkable qualities of the people within the SOU community, from dedicated faculty and staff to administrators who genuinely care about the institution.
Dennis has served on the Ashland City Council as well as on the SOU Board of Trustees, as appointed by the Governor. Dennis is currently serving as President of the OHRA Center, whose mission is to help low-income people build better lives. They run the shelter and resource center in south Ashland.
About community Dennis says, “Growing up among the Athabaskan Indians taught me the importance of sustainability, as we were subsistence hunters and fishermen who relied on sled dogs for transportation. The fundamental lesson was leaving each place we touched better than we found it. This principle applies whether it’s a campground, a village, a city, a state, or a university. It’s about personal responsibility and working tirelessly to leave a positive impact.”
Dennis Slattery as a youth in Alaska.
Giving Back to the University
Dennis’s commitment to giving back isn’t just about charity—it’s a deeply ingrained desire to make a positive impact. He sees the work he does at the university, the lives he touches, and the people he assists as more than just acts of giving. It’s a profound connection to the community and the students he supports. With that in mind, Dennis and his wife have established a small scholarship for SOU Business students, yet their commitment extends beyond financial aid.
Dennis & Sandra Slattery.
Dennis says about SOU and the future, “What fills me with enthusiasm is witnessing the emergence of a highly talented younger generation of faculty members who are stepping into leadership roles. They represent the future of this institution, and their contributions are invaluable.”
Dennis actively seeks ways to contribute within the institution, understanding the importance of nurturing and supporting young students. It’s not merely about the act of giving, but the impact it has. Even his participation in events like the Raider auction goes a long way in showing support. While the university might face challenges, Dennis firmly believes in providing these essential points of support to create a caring and nurturing environment for the students. He continues,
“I’m optimistic about the university’s evolving collaborations, such as those with Lithia and other partners. These collaborations are paving the way for a fresh approach to higher education, something that has been overdue for quite some time. The prospect of redefining higher education in the years ahead is genuinely exciting.”