Oral Histories

Patrick McWilliams


Patrick McWilliams


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Patrick McWilliams was a member of the English faculty at IMSA between 1987 and 1998. He had previously taught at private schools. Having spent a year on a Klingenstein fellowship at Columbia University in New York City, he returned home to New Orleans and decided to look for other opportunities. He saw the job advertised at IMSA and applied.

When McWilliams started in 1987, IMSA was in its second year and in the process of adding faculty to accommodate the growing student body. Because it was still early in the school’s existence, he got to have a role in shaping the curriculum. The English faculty decided they would not follow a traditional anthology-based curriculum, instead taking a more exploratory and thematic approach. A memorable course McWilliams developed, with members of the history faculty, was on utopias and dystopias. The approach was different than students - and parents - were used to, which required some adjustment, but McWilliams says it resulted in much more interesting student work.

One challenge during his time on the faculty was tension over the focus of the overall curriculum, to what extent it should focus only on math and science. McWilliams says he felt in the early years that the students got a really well-balanced education, and that was important.

McWilliams was also involved in a program where IMSA faculty taught in Chicago on Saturdays, to give students a taste of what attending IMSA would be like. He recalls usually about half the students who participated in the program would then apply to and attend IMSA.

McWilliams commuted to IMSA from his home in Oak Park and eventually that got to be too much. He retired in 1998 and moved to Colorado. Since that time he has worked in the public schools, including developing a gifted and talented program, and at the public library. Overall, he says the IMSA experience stands out among his long teaching career because of the engagement and enthusiasm of the students.

Interviewer: Sara Goek. Duration: 28:40. Note: there were a few minor issues with internet connectivity during this recording.




curriculum, faculty, English classes


Oral history


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Patrick McWilliams