BAR Award Profile – DeVetta Holman Nash ’79

2011 Outstanding Faculty Staff Award
Devetta Holman Nash ’79

DeVetta Holman Nash ’79 (’85 MPH) leads by example. In the nuanced world of counseling and wellness, the “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” approach falls short of what students in crisis need.As associate director of counseling and wellness and director of wellness for Campus Health Services, DeVetta knows that telling students what to do often is less effective than showing them. The safety net for students panicked by exams or overwhelmed by balancing the demands of college life or sucker-punched by an unexpected death or break-up is to persevere, to keep breathing and maybe find someone to hold onto during the hardest parts. That’s where indefatigable, rock-steady DeVetta comes in.

Throughout her 25-year career at UNC, DeVetta has shown a com¬mitment to educating students, finding resources for all manner of health and lifestyle issues, and pulling to the fore the needs of under-represented student groups. She just doesn’t quit.

DeVetta grew up in Oxford and had been accepted at Howard University when her father’s unexpected death brought a change of plans. Wanting to stay closer to home to help her mom with her two little brothers, DeVetta went to UNC instead and hasn’t regretted a minute of it, though it took some adjusting. In her small high school, she was captain of the cheerleaders, homecoming queen and student government vice president. At UNC, where the student population was twice as big as her hometown, she was just another smart kid with potential.

Unleashing that potential in students underlies many of her initiatives at Carolina. “I tap the fire in my students,” DeVetta said. That shows in her dedication to social justice: She serves as faculty adviser to the campus chapter of the NAACP, facilitated a “Gay Identity in the Black Community” forum and aided a student group bringing to light disparities in the prison system. She encourages fundraisers that benefit AIDS services and create minority scholarships. She champions healthy causes, such as a smoke-free campus and awareness programs to promote positive self-image, fitness and nutrition, and developing life skills. She serves on the board of directors for the N.C. Pregnancy Prevention Campaign.

In 2008, DeVetta received the Chancellor’s Student Undergraduate Teaching and Staff Award; the following year, she was inducted into the UNC Frank Porter Graham Honor Society for outstanding professional work.Her older sister, Robin Saxton, attests to DeVetta’s can-do spirit. “She wears us out,” Robin said. “She has a way of moving you along that you have to laugh and say, ‘I hadn’t planned on doing this, but here we are.’ ”

Robin said DeVetta “has always been a mother hen. She was quite the bossy little thing. We laugh at it now, but it wasn’t funny back then, when I was trying to date, and she was always hovering and reporting.”
Still, when you ask DeVetta to do something, you know she’ll do it correctly. She doesn’t stop until she gets it right, Robin said.

DeVetta has a 10-year-old son who is her pride and joy. She gives her students the time, attention, compassion and clarity that she’d want others to show to her son. She takes pride in her close-knit family and values the ongoing contact she has with students after they graduate. “Feeling appreciated is more valuable than money to me,” she said.
Walter Mebane, collegiate basketball coach, relies on DeVetta’s advice in motivating students in a game that has a strong mental component. She balances her warmth and caring with utmost professionalism. “She’s a great person to know if you are a student at Carolina, whether you are going through a crisis or not,” Walter said.

Rick Steinbacher ’93, associate athletics director for marketing at UNC, recalled drawing strength from DeVetta when he was on the football team as a student at Carolina. “She’s one of the most positive, upbeat people I know,” Rick said. Athletes face many challenges in managing time demands.

“She helped me appreciate what I was doing instead of worry that I wasn’t doing enough,” he said. He still follows her advice of focusing on what you can control. “She doesn’t let the obstacles or attitudes of others get in the way of what she thinks or how she acts.”