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Published April 24, 2023
Geology alum Roy Shlemon supports students — from underprepared undergraduates to graduate students investigating the Quaternary Period.
By Tamara Linse
“How I got to Wyoming is a strange and wonderful thing,” says donor and alum Roy Shlemon, who is originally from Northern California.
Shlemon graduated from Modesto High School in the early 1950s. He hadn’t been a particularly high-performing student, and because it was the Korean War era, he knew he would join the National Guard and then go on active duty. “The one thing I learned in the Army is ‘I don’t want to do this. There has to be more to life than this,’” says Shlemon.
Shlemon got out of the military on a Sunday night and on Monday morning enrolled in his local community college, Modesto Junior College. “Unfortunately, I had no money, no experience and no mentors,” he says. Also, as a first-generation American and a first-generation college student, he had no guidance. He did well at the junior college and while there took an introductory course in historical geology. Required to declare a major, Shlemon decided that geology would be the field.
He then decided to get a bachelor’s degree and applied to colleges. His ’41 Chevy Coupe couldn’t make it over the pass to Berkeley, so he went down the valley to Fresno State College (now university) and majored in geology. That led to his first introduction to Wyoming when he took his mandatory geology field course near Dubois in the Wind River Mountains.
After Shlemon graduated with his bachelor’s degree in geology, the job market was in a slump. He decided to go to graduate school in Wyoming. This was before computer communication, and long-distance calls were expensive, so he just showed up in the Department of Geology and Geophysics office in January with his GI foot locker in tow. Fortunately, the office staff helped him find a place to live. “They were so kind,” he says. In addition to graduate courses, Shlemon wrote his thesis primarily on geological mapping near Thermopolis under then-new faculty member Donald Boyd. Shlemon earned his master’s degree from UW in 1959.
He went on to a very successful 40-plus year career as a consulting geologist and philanthropist. He returned to California to teach at junior colleges and then earned his Ph.D. in geology at Berkeley. He taught at universities such as University of California Davis and Los Angeles, Stanford University and Louisiana State University. Shlemon started his own company and continues to consult on large engineering geologic projects around the world.
He highlights the importance of enthusiastic mentors in the success of students: “Almost invariably it’s a faculty member who steers a student. The student takes the course, and the student has good vibes from that person, and they continue in that particular field. Ninety percent of it is personality.”
Later in his career, Shlemon reconnected with his alma mater. He returned to UW to give lectures, to serve on the UW Foundation board and other boards, and to support the university with his philanthropic dollars. In addition to giving to programs across campus, Shlemon
has established the following funds.
The Roy J. Shlemon Endowment for Student Success in Math and Science supports student mentors in the UW Synergy Program who help STEM students (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
The Roy J. Shlemon Fellowship Fund supports graduate students in geology and geophysics who are conducting field studies.
The Roy J. Shlemon Endowment for Quaternary Studies creates and supports the Roy J. Shlemon Center for Quaternary Studies.
He is particularly enthusiastic about supporting students. “For a student, those few dollars make a huge difference,” Shlemon says — something he knows from experience.