Deborah Slaton Creates A Legacy for Doctoral Students


By Amanda Nelson

Dr. Deborah Bott Slaton has been helping special education students, teachers and doctoral students for more than three decades. Even in retirement, she is working for the betterment of others. In fact, giving to others will be the very last thing she ever does.

Slaton and her husband, Tom Slaton, have written their will to include an endowment for doctoral students in special education at the University of Kentucky College of Education. Their gift won’t be for recognition or a thank you note. It’s about taking what she spent her entire career doing and finding a way to keep it going forever.

It can make for delicate subject matter, speaking about death and money. Yet, Slaton doesn’t hesitate to engage in conversation about plans for her estate. She hopes it might spark an idea with others in positions to create similar endowments. 

“Teachers are known for creating ripple effects,” said Dr. Rosetta Sandidge, former UK College of Education interim dean. “They often toss the first stone in the water and beneath the reverberations are the subtle imprints made on countless lives. That is something Deborah has done throughout her career. The gift she and Tom are giving UK’s special education scholars will continue that ripple effect for many years to come.” 

To put Slaton’s teaching career in the simplest of terms, you could say she always enjoyed fighting for the underdog, and doing whatever it took to make a difference. She did this first as an elementary special education teacher in Texas and New Mexico. Then, as a faculty member who specialized in preparing students who would go on to careers in special education. She joined the UK College of Education faculty in 1984.

For Slaton, making a difference is not about leaving a visible mark on the world. It’s about rolling up her sleeves and getting the work done. As a professor, Slaton spent countless hours with doctoral students. They went on to impact the lives of thousands of special education teachers, researchers and professors across the country.

“What is so unique and satisfying about teacher education and doctoral level education is that sense of helping people at a lot of different levels,” Slaton said. 

Today, Slaton is a volunteer with Dress for Success Lexington. She writes grants and helps clients develop skills to prepare them for job interviews and careers. It’s yet another organization that proves that by supporting one person, you are not only making a difference in that individual’s life, but potentially in the world of others. It’s something Slaton has witnessed time and time again.

Slaton’s career in academia included time as chair of her department and as associate dean for research and graduate studies for the college. She earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and special education from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.  She later earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., in specific learning disabilities and special education, respectively.

As a professor at UK, she worked with colleagues in school districts across Kentucky developing reading interventions for students with and without disabilities. As an administrator in the college, it was her goal to help faculty prepare UK’s teacher education students to feel comfortable teaching children and adolescents who live with disabilities.

“Throughout their careers, all teachers can expect to have students with disabilities in their classrooms,” she said.

Today, Slaton speaks with passion about her former career and all aspects of her life, but perhaps most enthusiastically about golf and retirement. Someone with such a dogged devotion to her life’s work doesn’t seem the type to come to terms with retirement easily. As you get to know Slaton, though, you begin to understand that no matter what she is doing, she embraces it. Today, that just so happens to be retirement. 

Her love of retirement reflects a career well-spent. As she reminisces, it’s evident she was fulfilled by what she did in her three decades at the college, that she loves what she is doing now, and that she feels good about how the ripple effect of her actions will carry into the future. 

To learn more about how your gift can create a legacy, contact Aimee' Baston at or (859) 257-2479.

This article originally appeared March 4, 2019 on the College of Education website. All gifts planned and outright benefit Kentucky Can: The 21st Century Campaign, a $2.1 billion comprehensive campaign focused on increasing opportunities for student success, funding innovative research, improving health care, strengthening our alumni network and supporting our athletic programs. 

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