Alumni News

School presents annual alumni awards

Five outstanding educators were recognized by the School of Education at its eighth annual alumni awards ceremony Oct. 27, 2007 at the George Watts Hill Alumni Center on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus. Presiding at the ceremony were Mike Williams (A.B.Ed. ’67, Ed.D. ’92), president of the School of Education Alumni Association, and Ben Matthews (Ph.D. ’84), chair of the Alumni Awards Committee.

Photo of Roy Williams
Coach Roy Williams accepts his award. (Back left) Buddy Baldwin, Williams' high school coach, presented the award.

Roy Williams (A.B.Ed ’72, M.A.T. ’73), head coach of Tar Heel men’s basketball, received the Alumni Achievement Award, recognizing his accomplishments as a coach, teacher and role model. After graduating from the School of Education in 1973, Williams began his career as a teacher and coach at Charles Owen High School in Swannanoa, N.C. In 1978, he became an assistant to Coach Dean Smith at UNC-Chapel Hill, then coached at the University of Kansas for 15 years before returning to his alma mater in 2003.

Known for his honesty, fairness, tenacity, humor, humility and leadership, Williams is respected both for his coaching achievements and his positive impact on his players. He has the highest winning percentage among active coaches with 10 years or more of experience. He led both Kansas and Carolina to national championship games and has been twice named National Coach of the Year. In 2007, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

“Roy is a great teacher and a great leader,” said Buddy Baldwin (A.B. ’62), Williams’ high school coach, who presented the award. “At practices, he has everything organized to the minute. He has the players’ utmost attention all the time and communicates with them unbelievably well. He has a deep understanding of basketball and sees everything on the floor at once. That’s very difficult to do.

“But the thing that stands out most is his character. He is humble, has worked hard all his life and is very competitive. His integrity, ethics, honesty, they’re tops. His players respect and love him, and he has a strong effect on them, not just as basketball players but as young men.”

Photo of Thomas James
Thomas James

For his exceptional leadership as dean of the School of Education from 2003-07, Thomas James received the Distinguished Leadership Award. During his tenure as dean, he reached out to schools and communities and listened to people across North Carolina talk about their needs and hopes for education. He led the School in establishing new partnerships with schools and communities across the state.

Under his leadership, the School of Education developed ties with state and federal policymakers and began many bold new initiatives to impact the policy arena in North Carolina and the nation.

In addition, James streamlined the internal organization of the School of Education, creating a positive climate and strengthening the School’s academic programs. The faculty obtained an unprecedented level of external research funding, launched more field-based research in schools and communities, and developed collaborations with faculty across the campus with the goal of improving education in North Carolina.

“Tom was highly respected by our faculty and by all who met him here,” said Interim Dean Jill Fitzgerald.  “One of his greatest strengths as a leader is his keen ability to inspire through imagination of what might be, while at the same time listening to – and believing in – others’ ideas.”
James is now the provost of Teachers College at Columbia University, the country’s largest graduate school of education, ranked first in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Before coming to Carolina, he served on the education faculty and held administrative posts at New York University, Brown University, Wesleyan University and Stanford University.

Photo of Samuel Holton
Samuel Holton

A Distinguished Leadership Award was also presented to Samuel Holton, who served on the faculty of the School of Education from 1948 until his retirement in 1987. He was chair of the social foundations area, supervised the dissertation research of more than 50 doctoral candidates and received several teaching awards.

Holton was known as a diligent scholar. His landmark text, Understanding the American Public High School, originally published in 1969, remains an important resource today. 

“Sam was the most learned of his generation,” said George Noblit, Joseph R. Neikirk Distinguished Professor and former colleague of Holton’s.

“He was regarded as a faculty leader and a person of the highest moral character. He was the voice of reason in many challenging situations. He led by example, for instance, in admitting and advising to completion students of color in the Ph.D. program. He was among the first at Carolina to do this,” Noblit said.

“Sam was always congenial, but with a stubborn streak for issues of fairness and quality,” Noblit added. “When others argued for practicality, he would argue for what was right.”

Even in retirement, Holton’s commitment to educational scholarship remains strong. In 2000, his family funded the Samuel M. Holton Graduate Fellowship in Foundations of Education to support a doctoral candidate studying the history or philosophy of education. Last year, the Holtons established the Samuel M. Holton Distinguished Professorship to support a faculty member whose scholarly work focuses on the history or philosophy of education.

Photo of Diane Day
Diane Day

Eighth-grade mathematics teacher Diane Day (M.Ed. ’06) received the Excellence in Teaching Award. In her work at Raleigh’s Moore Square Middle School, she focuses on real-world situations to teach her students how to make decisions, evaluate options and solve complex problems. She goes beyond the textbook and infuses her instruction with real-life relevance so that her students not only learn math but also understand how it works in the world around them. For example, in the classroom her students learn to use innovative algorithms to determine the best cell phone rate plan. On a field trip, she turns a science museum into a crime lab, showing students how to examine the geometry of insect flight patterns as part of a mock post-mortem examination.

Day establishes a positive environment in her classrooms, encouraging her students to take risks and try new ideas. She serves as a mentor to other teachers, and administrators at her school often advise other teachers to observe her teaching as a way to develop their own skills.

Photo of Patricia Cotham
Patricia Cotham

The Outstanding Young Alumna Award was presented to Patricia Cotham (M.S.A. ’06), who, at age 28, is the youngest woman ever to serve in the North Carolina House of Representatives. Appointed by Gov. Mike Easley to fill a vacant seat in March 2007, she is an advocate for teachers and schools, helping other elected officials understand the challenges and viable solutions in education today.

Cotham began her career as a social studies teacher. In 2001, she was named the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Teacher of the Year and in 2003, she received the Mint Hill Teacher of the Year award. After earning a master of school administration degree from the School of Education in 2006, she became assistant principal at East Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, N.C. 

Now in the state legislature, Cotham has co-sponsored several pieces of legislation related to education, including bills to prevent school violence, increase educators’ salaries and advance planning funds for community colleges. A strong voice for those who are disadvantaged or disenfranchised, she has also co-sponsored the North Carolina Racial Justice Act, supporting a study of racial disparities in North Carolina’s juvenile justice system.
Each year the School of Education honors select individuals for their contribution to education. Previous winners include UNC President Emeritus William C. Friday and Ida H. Friday, former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt and former Senator Howard N. Lee.

Nominations for next year’s awards may be submitted online or by contacting Laurie Norman, director of alumni relations, at or (919) 843-6979.