UNM Los Alamos

UNM-LA Bids Farewell to Interim Dean Kay Willerton

UNM-LA Bids Farewell to Interim Dean Kay Willerton

July 1, 2017 - Nancy Coombs

Cindy-KayThe University of New Mexico-Los Alamos (UNM-LA) faculty and staff gathered on Thursday, June 29 to celebrate Kay Willerton’s long and successful career at the college. After 30 years of service, Willerton is retiring from UNM-LA. Willerton began her employment with UNM-LA in 1987 as a teacher of mathematics, and over the years she has served in a number of capacities while continuing to teach. She has supported the college with committee work, strategic planning, accreditation reviews, bond elections, and grant proposals. She has served as mathematics department chair, division head, and Associate Dean of Instruction. In the fall 2015, CEO Dr. Cindy Rooney appointed Willerton Interim Dean of Instruction for UNM-LA.

Willerton first taught at UNM-LA as a substitute for math classes. In 1987 she accepted an adjunct position as a math instructor. Soon thereafter she became a continuing faculty member and the curriculum coordinator for developmental studies and math. Willerton continued to teach math classes at UNM-LA through spring 2016. Kateri-Kay

Before her work with UNM-LA, while teaching high school math in Texas, Willerton developed a style in which she would alternate providing short lessons with engaging students in math exercises. At the college level, she took that experience and tailored it to each course. One of her colleagues, Joe Ladish, who taught the higher-level math classes, recalls that students loved Kay, and thought she was an outstanding teacher. Ladish felt that when Willerton’s students got to his classes they were fully prepared, with strong mathematical foundations.

Other colleagues also remarked on Willerton’s commitment to students and to keeping current with both pedagogy and technology. Kate Massengale, who worked with Willerton for many years, related, “Kay was always trying to come up with new ways of teaching math. She was constantly looking for different ways to help students understand and master the concepts.”

Carol Neal, another math instructor who shared an office with Willerton reflected, “Kay was good at changing with the times, from chalkboards to smartboards, always keeping up with the technology.”

In considering her tenure in the educational field, Willerton said, “I have always tried to keep the attitude never be afraid to try the newest thing that comes out.” Willerton was the first at UNM-LA to offer online math homework. In 2009, with a Title V grant, Willerton taught a webcast algebra class, which integrated the use of smartboards to capture the text and video to capture the lecture, all posted automatically to a website for online students.LAFD Chief Hughes and kay

In reminiscing on her teaching experiences at UNM-LA, Willerton mentioned the students that came to her class believing they were “no good at math” and the joy she found in helping them discover an understanding of math. Indeed, one such student was a music major who became so enthusiastic about math that she went on to get a math degree. With a smile, Willerton recalled teaching a class that met on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, and how pleased she was that all 32 students attended every class.  

Another colleague who worked with Kay in the 1990’s, Bobbye Straight, captured the sentiment of many people on campus. Straight commented, “Although she is a rigorous teacher, Kay is a favorite with the students and a model for other teachers. She makes it easy to ask questions, she grades promptly and fairly. Her actions and smile show how much she likes and enjoys her students. Faculty and staff colleagues like to work with her because of her can-do attitude.”

Massengale noted, “Kay’s energy and devotion to UNM-LA has been remarkable. She has been actively involved and caring for 30 years.” Others at the retirement event referred to Willerton’s dedication, the way she inspired others, and her role as a true servant leader on campus.

In closing, Dr. Rooney offered, “Bittersweet is a word that comes to mind as I think about Kay retiring. Having worked with Kay for almost 20 years, it is difficult to imagine UNM-LA without her thoughtful, calming influence. She has been an integral part of making UNM-LA the successful institution it is today. As she retires, we wish her less stress and fewer alarm clocks, and more time to relax and spend with family.”

UNM–Los Alamos is an innovative, rigorous, and affordable comprehensive branch community college that provides foundations for transfer, leading-edge career programs, and lifelong learning opportunities.


Pictures, top to bottom: Kay shares memories with UNM-LA CEO Dr. Cindy Rooney, Kay with kateri Morris, her Administrative Assistant, and Kay with LAFD Chief Troy Hughes at the party.