In 1994, nearly 15 years after he began teaching mathematics at LSU, Dr. James Oxley and his colleagues established the department’s first graduate student teaching award.

“We started that because other universities had teaching awards for the best mathematics graduate students,” he said. “It was suggested that our department should have such an award.” The award, given each semester, was initially funded through faculty contributions that James had solicited.

Four years later, James lost his 20-year-old son, David, who was living in James’ native Australia. “One of my colleagues, Jimmie Lawson, suggested that this teaching award, which I had set up, should be renamed in memory of David,” James shared. Soon after, James and his wife, Dr. Judith Oxley, an adjunct associate professor in the College of Humanities & Social Sciences and faculty member at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, endowed the fund.

James, Judith and their daughter, Margaret, wanted to further their tribute to David. “All of us liked the idea of Endow an Oak, and we liked the idea of having some place on the campus that was special, that would be associated with our son,” he shared.

Margaret scoured the campus for the perfect tree, settling on the oak between Dodson Fountain and Audubon Hall in the Quad. The tree became even more special to James when his colleague, Lawson, had his photo taken there after becoming a Boyd Professor.

When James was named a Boyd Professor in 2012, he, too, took his photo at the tree, kneeling next to the memorial plaque that now bore both of his children’s names.

Margaret, an LSU alumna, was working as an activities director at a nursing home in Baton Rouge when one of the residents suggested she become a teacher.

“During the time that she was a teacher, she got a huge amount of joy from being a teacher, and a huge amount of satisfaction from the fact that she could say, ‘I’m a math teacher,’” James said. “She recognized the importance of teaching, and the effect that it can have on changing people’s lives. She was proud to be a teacher.”

James shared that the stimulation from being around a large group of people in a classroom aggravated her epilepsy. Margaret passed away from a massive seizure in 2009.

“A month after she died, we gave out the teaching award, and that semester, it was named after both of our children,” James said. “We subsequently decided that it would be better to have a separate award for Margaret, for people majoring in mathematics education.”

James said the common theme of the two awards is teaching, because every person has had a teacher who has played a significant role in shaping their career choice or who they are. “By offering rewards like this, it encourages the students who get the awards, and recognizes that their contributions to teaching are profound.”

Both awards grant the student recipients $500, but James and Judith have pledged to increase the amount to $1,000.

“I think everybody talks about the value of education, but I don’t think enough can be said about how powerful education is in influencing the lives of the students we see,” James shared.

By helping and encouraging future teachers through the named awards, David and Margaret will continue to influence students’ lives for generations.

Published in Cornerstone Summer and Fall 2014.