On a mission

Bond between former professor, student leads them around the world

By Adriana M. Chávez ’19

During his nine-year tenure at NMSU, Thom Votaw ’74 ’78 taught hundreds of students as a college instructor and assistant professor in curriculum and instruction in the College of Education. While his teaching no doubt had an impact on every student, a lucky few have maintained a strong bond with Votaw since leaving the university in 1995.

One of the strongest bonds Votaw maintains is with
Kathleen Livingston Willson ’90, who now travels the world with Votaw as part of Votaw’s nonprofit organization, Teachers In Service, Inc.

“Out of hundreds of students, I developed a strange chemistry with a small handful of them, and she and I developed a relationship that has lasted all these years,” Votaw says.

“I feel like he was a person who was really open and willing to take the time to mentor me,” says Willson, who is now a science teacher in Aurora, Colorado. “I feel like he’s kind of open to still mentoring me.”

The two see each other regularly. Votaw visits Willson and her husband in Colorado about four times a year, and the two travel as part of Teachers In Service, Inc., a Christian organization that addresses the professional needs of teachers of missionary children in countries such as Kenya, Guatemala and Mexico.

Votaw started the organization in 1997, and years later invited Willson to become a member of the organization’s board.

“We had spent enough time together that she had a pretty good feeling for what I was doing for missionary schools,” Votaw says.

Once Willson accepted Votaw’s offer, he immediately followed up with an invitation to visit a school for the children of missionaries in Kenya.

“Going to Kenya with her was a blind date even though we had gotten to know each other pretty well,” Votaw says. “We had never traveled together, especially to a third-world country.”

The two have since seen zebras and giraffes running in the wild during a picnic in Nairobi, and explored archaeological sites in Oaxaca, Mexico. However, the fun doesn’t happen until after the two spend time interviewing teachers, administrators and parents about the value of need for teachers for children of missionaries. These interviews are recorded and ultimately posted to YouTube.

They also set up future dialog between schools and volunteers working with Teachers In Service, Inc.

While conducting their work and meeting new people in the countries they’ve visited, Votaw and Willson have become even closer.

“He’s always been open to communication and discussion, and I think that’s an area of passion for him: how do we do this and how do we do this better? I feel like his passion for that has matched my desire to keep getting better and better,” Willson says.

She adds that the experiences working with Teachers In Service, Inc., has also impacted her personally.

“I’m able to meet quite a few people who are missionaries in the field, and the experience and wisdom they had to share was very profound,” Willson says. “It has changed who I am just getting to know and interact with them.”

For more information, visit teachers-in-service.org.

Thom Votaw and Kathleen Livingston Willson pose with Donna Shaver (center) during a trip as part of Votaw’s nonprofit organization, Teachers In Service, Inc., which addresses the professional needs of teachers of missionary children overseas.

Thom Votaw (left) and Kathleen Livingston Willson traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, together as part of Teachers In Service, Inc., a Christian nonprofit organization Votaw founded. The two regularly travel overseas to visit schools for children of missionaries.