Education saved Victor M. Macías-González. Now the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse history professor is being nationally recognized for his own work as an educator.
The 43-year-old has been named Wisconsin Professor of the Year by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
The national program honors a small pool of undergraduate instructors who excel at guiding and inspiring students.
Macías-González plans to bring his family to the awards ceremony this week in Washington, D.C.
“It’s a recognition of all the hard work that they did to put me through graduate school, and I want them to enjoy that,” Macías-González said.
Macías-González teaches Latin-American history courses at UW-L and oversees a mentoring program for underprivileged students. He has thrived since joining the university in 2000, championing diversity and helping students finish college and pursue graduate school.
“He’s deeply committed to students,” UW-L Chancellor Joe Gow said. “And teaching them not only in the classroom but also in all facets of campus life.”
Macías-González is the second UW-L professor to win the award in three years. History professor Greg Wegner, who has since retired, was 2011 Wisconsin Professor of the Year.
When it comes to students, Macías-González mixes high expectations with tireless advocacy, co-worker Jessica Thill said.
“Rather than giving students a low grade, he’ll call students and say, ‘Here are the things you need to fix,’” Thill said.
Thill is a coordinator for UW-L’s McNair Scholars program, which prepares low-income and first-generation undergrads for graduate school. Many of Thill’s students come from a mentoring program directed by Macías-González.
Macías-González created the Eagle Mentoring Program about five years ago to help under-represented and at-risk students overcome the “sophomore slump” and continue their education, he said.
The program takes 10 to 12 second-year students a year. Institutional support tends to fall away in the sophomore year, leaving students with a greater chance to get lost or drop out, Macías-González said. Students admitted to his program are assigned a faculty mentor they meet with for an hour each week to learn how to succeed in college.
They’re also encouraged to engage in what Macías-González called “high-impact” learning opportunities, such as studying abroad or doing undergraduate research.
Education is more than a career for Macías-González, who was born in the United States but grew up in Mexico. It’s a source of power, he said.
“For my family, education meant being able to continue the standard of life that we had before we came to this country and taking it higher,” Macías-González said.
His parents fell on hard times after moving to the United States. When it came to their son’s future, higher education “was the way they pointed,” Macías-González said.
Macías-González’s childhood was filled with weekly trips to bookstores. He was about 6 years old when he got the book that sparked his interest in history.
It was a Spanish version of the discovery of the Americas — one of the first books Macías-González remembers owning that wasn’t children’s stories or fairy tales, he said.
“I loved the images,” Macías-González said. “I loved the way in which the book allowed me to travel through time and learn about different cultures.”
He enrolled at the University of Texas at El Paso, but transitioning to college life took time, Macías-González said.
“I was scared of teachers,” Macías-González said. “I thought I was getting in the way, so I never went into see them.”
By his junior year, Macías-González had found his calling. He went on to earn a master’s and doctorate in history from UTEP and Texas Christian University, respectively.
Many of the UW-L students he now helps remind him of his early struggles in college, and he works to help them find similar success.
“I really enjoy my job,” Macías-González said. “What I really like about the campus is being able to contribute to many different programs.”