Skip to main content
MenuSearch & Directory

Long-Time Aviation Professor Selected as Nancy McNeir Ring Award Winner

by Joe Barker on 12/01/2023


Associate Professor of Aviation Science Stephen Belt, Ph.D., has been chosen as the 2023 Nancy McNeir Ring Award recipient.

Stephen Belt, Ph.D., is the 2023 Nancy McNeir Ring awardee.

Stephen Belt, Ph.D., is the 2023 Nancy McNeir Ring awardee. Photo by Sarah Conroy.

The Nancy McNeir Ring Award, SLU’s highest honor for teaching, was initially established in 1966 by SLU’s chapter of Alpha Sigma Nu, the national Jesuit honor society, to acknowledge faculty members who display special dedication to students. Belt will be recognized and deliver the commencement address at the 2023 Midyear Commencement Ceremony.

The ceremony will be at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16, at Chaifetz Arena.

“I am truly touched by this recognition. It means the world to me, and I'm inspired to keep striving to live up to such lofty praise,” Belt said. “To simply be nominated is all by itself such a tremendous honor.”

Belt has been at Saint Louis University since 1998, when he joined the Aviation Science department at what was then called Parks College. He has served as Department Chair, Flight Training Director, Parks College Chief Diversity Officer, senior check airman, pilot and instructor.

Belt is also a SLU alum, having earned his doctorate in Higher Education Administration from the University in 2012.

The Jesuits are responsible for Belt ending up at SLU in more ways than one, he said. After his initial career path stalled, he found a new route with the Jesuits.

“I grew up in Kansas City, and after moving back and forth from Parks (SLU) to the University of Central Missouri, I graduated from UCM with a major in Aviation and plans to become an airline pilot,” he said. “There were no jobs, and I wandered around a bit. A former teacher of mine, a Jesuit from Rockhurst High, invited me to Regis as a campus ministry intern. After the year at Regis, I stayed in Denver and completed the degree in counseling and was accepted into the Society of Jesus.”

Belt continued his education and earned his master's in Systematic Theology at Aquinas Institute of Theology.

“I completed First Studies at Bellarmine House and the MA in theology,” he said. “Drawing on my aviation background, in my third year at Bellarmine, I was hired by the Aviation Science Department as a part-time flight instructor.”
From Bellarmine, the Jesuit order sent Belt to SLU in 1998.

“I was assigned to SLU/Aviation Science full-time for Regency,” Belt said. “I moved into the community at St. Matthew the Apostle parish in the Ville neighborhood of North St. Louis. Four years later, I left the Society to remain at SLU, and I've been here, and a St. Matt's parishioner, ever since. Aviation Science at SLU has afforded me the opportunity to blend in a powerful way my love for aviation and my practice of a faith seeking justice. In a curious way, in order to be free to pursue this path, firmly grounded in Ignatian spirituality and the Jesuit mission and identity of SLU, I was called out of the Society of Jesus.”

For Belt, Saint Louis University is a perfect fit. He was recently recognized at the Presidential Service Awards for having spent 25 years at SLU.

“I can honestly say that there is no other place I've wanted to work,” he said. “Early in my career, I felt like I had won the lottery. I have been so blessed to get up every morning and do something I love and call it work. Make no mistake, it is a job, and there have been ruts and changes and challenges along the way. But I have never seriously considered going anyplace else.”

Belt said he still enjoys teaching and being in the classrooms.

“I think it is about sharing your passion for something,” he said. “It is so gratifying to help and watch people learn something new. It is not always instant gratification, but it is always inspiring to watch my students grow. I just hope that my encounters with them have been more positive than negative — that, in some way, I have helped them along the way.”

The nominations for Belt highlighted his dedication and care for his students. Belt was described as someone who checked in and mentored students long after they were in his class.

The nominations also all highlighted Belt’s work to increase the diversity of the aviation field. Belt has brought aviation experiences to The Ville, a historically African-American neighborhood, throughout his career. Belt has invited his students to schools in The Ville to teach young students about aviation.

“Dr. Belt introduced me to the profound significance of terms such as diversity, inclusion, civic engagement, service learning, outreach, and community development through real-time experiences,” one nominator said. “He provided me with the opportunity to actively participate in his outreach service within the Saint Louis neighborhood, 'The Ville.' Through his mentorship, teachings, explanations, logical reasoning, and philosophical insights, I underwent profound intellectual and ethical growth that has significantly shaped my development, both mentally and spiritually.”

Belt said he is honored to receive the McNeir Award, even as he believes there are many other deserving candidates across the University.

“I really do not believe I am all that different than any number of teaching faculty here at SLU,” he said. “I am one among many, hopefully, most, who strive to live the mission as we accompany our students,” he said. “I think it is true — cura personalis is something we take to heart — we care about our students. In this, I know I am not alone — and for that, I am grateful as well. It is so inspiring to be a colleague here at SLU and to be counted among a whole array of outstanding faculty and staff.”

Nancy McNeir Ring Award

The Nancy McNeir Ring Award was initially established in 1966 by SLU’s chapter of Alpha Sigma Nu, the national Jesuit honor society, to acknowledge faculty members who display special dedication to students. It was awarded annually from 1966 to 2008 and was re-established in 2016. It remains SLU’s only University-wide teaching award.

This award was named in honor of Nancy McNeir Ring, the University’s first dean of women, because of her devotion to the welfare of students. In keeping with tradition, Alpha Sigma Nu students review nominations and select the recipient each year.

Each school/college/center may nominate up to two faculty members for this award. The award carries with it $2,500 in professional development funds and is presented on stage at the December commencement ceremony, where the recipient gives the commencement address.