Jefferson Award winner is never finished

Dr. Mari Dias, a professor of sociology and psychology at Johnson and Wales University, has been named a 2013 Jefferson Award recipient.

"I was flabbergasted when they called me because I didn't know that my daughter had actually nominated me. It was so heartwarming that my daughter thought of me that way," she said.

It's her affable persona combined with a thirst for knowledge and quest to change the world that keeps her students attentive and seeking her tutelage as part of their educational experience.

"She'll tell stories and relate what she tells us to real life," said junior Ashley Zenobio.

And Dias has plenty of real-life experience that she can convey to her students.

For years, the professor known by her students as "Dr. D", she has been reaching and counseling classrooms full of maximum and minimum security inmates at the Adult Correctional Institutions.

"I have seen the resilience of human beings. I have seen people who have gone through so much in terms of devastation, atrocity and violence and have come out the other side," Dias said.

Notes of appreciation from past and present inmates decorate the walls of her office, and the ideals passed to the students through her education resonate beyond the classroom.

"She doesn't like to conform to the norm of what a teacher does. She always throws in examples, doesn't read from a slide and gives a real-world perspective on things," said senior Andrew Stock.

Stock said Dias is completely deserving of the award.

"She always goes above and beyond whatever's required," he said.

And apparently someone who won't rest on her laurels after being recognized.

"I always tell my students my epithet is going to read, 'I'm not finished yet.' Because even if I'm 110, I don't feel like I'm finished," Dias said.

The professor will soon be headed to South Africa after receiving a Fulbright scholarship that will send her to the University of Zululand to train graduate students in her theories and techniques.