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Kevin McIlvoy wins Westhafer Award for Teaching at NMSU

Author and English Professor Kevin McIlvoy has been selected for New Mexico State University's highest faculty honor, the Westhafer Award for Excellence in Teaching.

The award will be presented at 4 p.m. Thursday, May 13, in the Dona Ana Room of NMSU's Corbett Center Student Union. A 3:30 p.m. reception will precede the program. The public is invited.

McIlvoy is known as a gifted writer and an inspirational teacher whose influence extends well beyond his NMSU classes. He is editor-in-chief of the national literary magazine Puerto del Sol. He co-founded and edits Serape, an annual anthology by New Mexico elder writers, which grew out of a weekly writing class he volunteers to teach at a senior citizens center in Las Cruces. He founded the annual Marathon Reading, which raises funds for the NMSU English Department.

"He sees teaching not as a source of employment but as a calling, and I have heard dozens of amazed students remark on the time and effort he provides for them and their work," said author and colleague Robert Boswell.

Boswell, who has taught in the same department for 10 years, describes McIlvoy as an innovative teacher who has the ability to inspire students and change their lives. "He is a model for how to do your best and keep doing it, for how to give all you have to offer and then to discover a reserve, for how to be an absolute professional without ever losing track of your real mission -- to reach another student."

McIlvoy's students agree. "He does so much not only for individual students but for the writing community as well," one noted in supporting his nomination for the award. "He organized the Marathon Reading to raise money for various writing fellowships. I read at 4 a.m. and he was there! I came back to read again at 3 p.m. and he was still there!"

At NMSU, McIlvoy teaches students at all levels, from freshmen to graduate students. This semester he is teaching an honors class in freshman composition.

"What the classroom gives back to me is my sense of wonder and my sense of awe about the mysteries and complexities of learning," McIlvoy said.

He encourages risk taking and questioning by his students. "If you can place yourself in a state of readiness for learning, a great deal of knowledge finds you," he said. "And the way to be ready for it is to be a person always looking for good questions, not always looking for good answers."

At the Westhafer Award ceremony, McIlvoy is expected to talk about his approach to teaching and read from a chapter of his latest novel, Hyssop.

Hyssop was selected earlier this year by Borders Books and Music for its nationwide "Original Voices" program, which promotes the best new voices in literature. Like McIlvoy's two previous novels, The Fifth Station and Little Peg, Hyssop is set in Las Almas, a fictional version of Las Cruces. Hyssop, available at the University Bookstore, will be published in paperback by Avon/Bard in November 1999.

The Westhafer Award is named for Robert L. Westhafer, an NMSU professor of mathematics who died in 1957. The award, which includes a $3,000 cash prize, has been presented each year since 1958. It alternates between an award for excellence in teaching and an award for excellence in research.

McIlvoy earned his Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Arizona in 1980 and joined the NMSU faculty in 1981. His previous honors include the New Mexico Council of Teachers of English Excellence in English Education Award in 1996, the Dennis W. Darnall Faculty Achievement Award at NMSU in 1996 and the Donald C. Roush Award for Teaching Excellence at NMSU in 1989.

Students and former students alike praise McIlvoy as a thought-provoking teacher willing to spend extra time with every student, whether an undergraduate, graduate student or independent study student.

"Though I long ago passed through his classroom, he has continued to support my writing efforts by reading my work and attending events that showcase it; I know he's done the same for many of his students," wrote Deborah LaPorte, who studied creative writing with McIlvoy and now teaches in the NMSU English department. "We all think of him as our teacher for life, and he continues to live up to that expectation."
Karl Hill
May 11, 1999