Sylvia Stout: It's all about the people

  • Sylvia StoutSylvia Stout, business manager for the Physics Department, is to be honored for 40 years of service at William & Mary's annual Employee Appreciation Day luncheon.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Sylvia Stout
Sylvia Stout, business manager for the Physics Department, is to be honored for 40 years of service at William & Mary's annual Employee Appreciation Day luncheon.

"Actually," she says, "it's been 41 years."

On June 5, the College will host this popular event which has been held annually since 1988.  Some 700 staff members will enjoy a catered lunch while President Taylor Reveley recognizes their collective dedication and service.  Traditionally, employees celebrating major milestones for service to the College join the president at the podium. This year is no exception.

Sylvia Stout came to work at William & Mary in 1968.  Her prior work experience includes three years working for the superintendent of public schools in Williamsburg/James City County so she is essentially a career employee.  During her years at the College, she has witnessed a sea change in terms of everything from technology to regulations. She has worked under six presidents, four provosts, a dozen deans, and nine department chairs.

But only one department.  

"Physics is where I started at William & Mary and I can't imagine working anywhere else!" she exclaims.

Stout serves as the business manager in the Department of Physics where she oversees purchasing, budgets in the tens of millions of dollars, and most administrative logistics for approximately 170 students, staff, researchers and faculty.  She firmly believes that the people in her department - and at William & Mary - are what set the College apart, not just as an employer but a community.

"It is non-stop but I love it," Stout says.  "The people are terrific - so kind and genuine.  We're like a family over here."

Department Chair Keith Griffioen says that the Physics Department would grind to a halt without her.

"Whether it's a diode laser, 40 kilometers of wavelength-shifting fiber, ten thousand liters of liquid nitrogen or two dozen digital oscilloscopes, Sylvia makes the purchases and gets all the details right," says Griffioen.

With approximately 60 graduate students relying on Stout, she ensures that their stipends and tuition are paid from among hundreds of grants.  She also manages the travel authorizations and reimbursements for over a 100 physicists traveling around the globe at any given time.

"All of this is enough to drive an average person crazy, yet if someone walks into Sylvia's office, she immediately stops what she's doing to help," Griffioen says.

Paula Perry, who has worked with Stout for the past 25 years, agrees.  "Of course, Sylvia is efficient, honorable and loves her job," says Perry.  "In fact, she has watched the Physics Department grow - from crawling to running. She has wiped its nose and bandaged its knee; has patted it on the head when it's been good - and elsewhere when it's been bad! She has earned the right to do that."

"Sylvia is a friend," says Perry.

Coworker Carol Hankins finds Stout to be one of the most thoughtful and genuine people in the department.

"She really cares about each individual and the entire department," says Hankins.  "When she retires - if she ever does - it will take three people to do the job she does.  I only wish she would put some of the 40 years of knowledge down on paper for the future."

"Sylvia's work deserves recognition," says Griffioen.   "For children, visitors, current residents of Small Hall and long-lost alumni, Sylvia's office is their prime destination, in small measure because of the basket of starbursts and lollipops, but more importantly because she has so profoundly and positively affected all our lives."