NMSU branding

New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center

Search News Center Articles

Related Articles

Retiring NMSU Honors College dean eager to focus on more research, writing

When retiring Honors College Dean William Eamon arrived on the New Mexico State University campus in 1976, driving in from Montana in a U-Haul truck, he expected to spend his career as a history teacher, plain and simple.

Portrait of William Eamon
NMSU Honors College Dean William Eamon will retire at the end of July. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Eamon has spent most of his academic career ? the better part of four decades, give or take a research sabbatical or two ? here at NMSU, but he quickly found that, while teaching remained important, he had the chance to do much more.

?I found a lot of opportunities and a lot of interest that connected with my research,? Eamon said. ?This place gave me a chance to become a research scholar. It?s been a really great home for 38 years.?

Eamon?s research focuses on the history of science and medicine in Renaissance Italy and Spain, and on science and popular culture in early modern Europe. He?s the author of ?Science and the Secrets of Nature: Books of Secrets in Medieval and Early Modern Europe,? published as a result of his groundbreaking research into the obscure texts compiled by alchemists, midwives and others ? and their importance to the development of modern experimental science. That work had a significant impact on the field, inspiring additional research from other scholars on the topic. He has also written ?The Professor of Secrets: Mystery, Medicine, and Alchemy in Renaissance Italy? and more than 50 articles on various aspects of early modern science and medicine.

Eamon has taught undergraduate and graduate courses on the history of science and medicine, the history of magic and witchcraft in medieval and early modern Europe, the Scientific Revolution, and, in the Honors College, science and religion.

In 1995, he took over as director of what was then the Honors Program, which was started in 1965. Eamon said he inherited a very solid program from longtime director Tom Hoeksema, but it didn?t have the visibility on campus that it could.

?It was on the second floor of Hardman Hall ? a room with no windows. A one-room closet,? he said of the program?s office. ?It really was a space that sent out the message that the program wasn?t very important.

?One of the first tasks I set for myself was to find a more suitable location.?

With the support of Provost William Conroy, Eamon successfully lobbied for relocating the program to the campus?s oldest standing academic building. Through the Cornerstone Campaign, NMSU raised the $2 million needed to restore the historic building, which was designed by regionally significant architects Trost & Trost, and renamed it in Conroy?s honor.

The Honors Program and Crimson Scholars program moved into the building in 2002.

Eamon was also instrumental in transforming the program into an Honors College, a trend that was happening at universities across the country, but not yet in New Mexico.

?I had mixed support for that. It was an interesting debate,? Eamon said. ?The argument emerged about the cost and whether it was consistent with our historical mission of accessibility. But there was overwhelming support in the faculty senate and Associated Students of NMSU.

?One of the student senators said to me, ?I?m not an honors student, but I want to be at a university that has an honors college.?? Eamon said. ?He recognized that it brought prestige to the university. We created something really visible that?s a magnet for top students.?

The Honors College was established in 2004, incorporating the Crimson and Centennial Scholars programs and the Office of National Scholarships and International Education, and Eamon was appointed its first dean. NMSU was the first university in New Mexico to establish an honors college, which supplements the degrees offered by the university?s six academic colleges by awarding various levels of honors distinction to students who complete the prescribed honors track.

Eamon will hand over the reins of the college to anthropology professor and department head Miriam Chaiken on Aug. 1.

?Dr. Chaiken is a fine administrator and scholar, and is an excellent choice for the new dean ? she?ll be an excellent leader for the Honors College,? Eamon said. ?I wish her every success.?

Retirement doesn?t mark the end of Eamon?s scholarly career, but the next chapter. He?s looking forward to devoting his full attention to the books he has in progress ? ?Science and Everyday Life in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1750,? a book about science and popular culture in early modern Europe; and ?Conquistadors of Nature: How the Spanish Explorers Paved the Way to Modern Science,? a book for a broad audience about the origins of scientific discovery. He also maintains a blog, ?Labyrinth of Nature: Occasional Thoughts and Random Reflections on the History of Renaissance Science,? which can be found on his website, williameamon.com.

While the creation of the Honors College may stand out among Eamon?s accomplishments, he said the legacy that?s most important to him is the impact he?s had on individual students.

?Many of my students that I?ve taught over the years, going back to the earliest days, stay in touch with me,? he said. ?I?ll continue, even into retirement, to be a mentor to these students. That?s the legacy that I?m proudest of.?

NMSU Executive Vice President and Provost Dan Howard praised Eamon?s commitment to the university and its students.

?Bill Eamon has been my friend and colleague for 26 years, and my great regret is that we will probably see less of each other in the coming years,? Howard said. ?There are few people at NMSU who can match his legacy of leadership in scholarship, mentorship, teaching, and administration; his kind of talent is rare, and I am grateful he chose to make NMSU his home for 38 years.

?I wish him every happiness in retirement ? particularly good health, so that he can continue his extraordinary research and writing program in the history of science,? he said.
Eamon plans to stay active ? both professionally, giving talks and attending conferences, and physically, spending more time cycling, swimming, practicing yoga and gardening. He?ll also be doing some traveling, when he can, with his wife, NMSU Regents Professor Elba Serrano, and his daughter, Leslye Padilla, her husband, Mark, and their 12-year-old son, Miguel, who shares his grandfather?s interest in things like alchemy and magic.

?I?ve got lots and lots of things on my plate,? he said. ?I?m really looking forward to having the time to devote to being a full-time writer and pursuing my other passions. I?m not one of those people who is going to retire and wonder what he?s going to do.?