Jim Westgate, professor of earth and space sciences, has been honored by Lamar University as the 2008 University Professor.

The title, awarded for life, is the university’s most prestigious faculty award and recognizes an outstanding senior professor for academic excellence.

Provost Stephen Doblin announced the award Wednesday in a ceremony in the University Reception Center of the Mary and John Gray Library. It was the university’s 37th annual presentation of the award, which at one time was known as Regents’ Professor.

Doblin said that Westgate, a Lamar professor for 19 years, “is one of the best known and most admired faculty members on Lamar’s campus.”

In nominating Westgate for the honor, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Brenda Nichols said he “epitomizes the teacher-scholar model we want all faculty to emulate.”

Jim Jordan, chair of the Department of Earth and Spaces Sciences, wrote of Westgate, “His record of achievement is remarkable, but moreover ongoing. He in every sense embodies the concept of University Professor.”

The program also included presentation of the University Merit Awards for teaching excellence. Honored with University Merit Awards were Monica Bellon-Harn, assistant professor of speech and hearing sciences; Jiangjiang (Jane) Liu, assistant professor of computer science; Edythe Kirk, assistant professor of psychology; and John Payton, associate professor of health and kinesiology.

Westgate, a nationally recognized expert in paleontology, has combined his interests in research and teaching with an impressive record of service to his university and community. He has taught field courses in locations as varied as Panama’s rainforests, California’s Channel Islands and the desert of Death Valley. His research has included the excavation of dinosaur bones in Chihuahua, Mexico, and the identification of previously unknown genera of primates from a 40-million-year-old site near Laredo.

As science adviser and associate director of LU’s JASON Alliance for Southeast Texas, a science education program for elementary and middle school students, Westgate oversees training of science teachers from throughout the region for the program. He also has developed numerous hands-on science education experiences for in-service and pre-service teachers, especially through teaching environmental science courses.

“Hopefully that encourages them to create those kinds of experiences for their students,” Westgate said. “Science should be considered a verb not a noun. Science is doing things.”

Additionally, Westgate serves as Lamar’s earth science program director, for five years directed the university’s medical pre-professional program and has served on numerous university committees. He is a past president and board member of the Texas Academy of Sciences.

Westgate previously has been honored by Lamar University as Distinguished Faculty Lecturer and University Scholar.

A native of northern Virginia, Westgate received his bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary, master’s degrees from the University of Nebraska and Missouri State University and his doctoral degree from the University of Texas.

His wife, Karen Corwin, is counselor for Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities on the Lamar campus. They have two children, Erin, a student at Reed College in Oregon, and Jeffrey, a senior at West Brook High School in Beaumont