McKay inspired by School’s sense of community

Curt McKay

As a new master's student in library and information science, funds were tight, and Curt McKay (MS '88) hoped for an assistantship to ease his financial burden. Leigh Estabrook, dean of the School, noticed that McKay had been a teacher and offered him an assistantship in the learning resources lab. "At Illinois, not only did I start learning a new career, but I got carried away by this wonderful atmosphere," McKay recalled. Instead of completing his degree in one year as he had planned, he decided to extend it to two years, then in April of his first year, a job opened up in the School, and McKay was encouraged to apply.

As the assistant to the dean for recruiting and admissions, he worked to increase the enrollment of students from diverse backgrounds into LIS, helped students find jobs, and oversaw the computer lab. "I was often willing to take a risk on a student who might not have met the admissions committee standards. The vast majority have gone on to be successful, mostly as librarians but not exclusively," he said. His position evolved over the years into the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs.

McKay was involved in the Queer community on campus, and when the Office of LGBT Resources needed a part-time director, he was interested in the opportunity. The iSchool was supportive, and for a number of years, he held a joint appointment with the iSchool and the Dean of Students Office. In 2005 he became the first full-time director of what is now the LGBT Resource Center.

McKay is grateful for the support he received from the iSchool, both as a student and staff member. "It was a wonderful kind of environment. You won't find a better place to learn and to develop a sense of community," he said. "It was especially supportive of me as I came out as a gay person in middle age."

It was the support he received from the faculty, staff, and students that made him want to return the favor and give back. He established the Curt McKay Student Need Endowment, which provides emergency financial assistance for students enrolled in the iSchool. McKay knew that most graduate students survived on stipends from graduate assistantships and personal savings; if a tragedy were to strike, many students wouldn’t have the financial resources to manage the crisis and continue their education.

"I saw the fund as providing a gift and not a loan, but I also hoped that if recipients ever were financially able, they'd contribute to it. I've been gratified at the number of alumni who have added to the fund over the years, even though they weren't recipients. It shows how our sense of community continues long after completing degrees and pursuing careers," McKay said.

McKay retired from the University after serving eight years as co-director or director of the LGBT Resource Center. Since then, he has kept exceptionally busy, working at the local food pantry and preparing taxes for senior citizens; reading newspapers for the blind; working at the Friends of Rockford Public Library's bookstore; serving on the Education and Training committee of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance; and offering his assistance to Rockford's Unity in Diversity group.

In his weekly shift at the Rockford Public Library, McKay interacts with a variety of library users. "The iSchool broadened my outlook so that I can truly value what the public library brings to all of us; now I get to see that every week and be a small part of it," he said.

To make a gift to the Curt McKay Student Need Endowment Fund, visit the iSchool giving page.

Updated on
Backto the news archive

Related News

Four alumni named 2019 Movers and Shakers

Four iSchool alumni are included in Library Journal’s 2019 class of Movers & Shakers, an annual list that recognizes fifty professionals who are transforming what it means to be a librarian. Jarrett Dapier (MS '15) and Gwen Evans (MS '02) were honored in the Change Agents category; Heather Thompson (MS '13) was honored in the Educators category; and Anton Chuppin (MS '99) was honored in the Digital Developers category.

Movers & Shakers 2019

Ferreira appreciates scholarship, Leep program flexibility

For Kelly Ferreira, receiving a Leep Scholarship has made "a world of difference." When she enrolled in the MS/LIS program, she was employed at the Ela Area Public Library in Lake Zurich, Illinois. However, she had to leave her position when she recently moved with her partner across the country. Now working as a library technician at Eastern Florida State College's Palm Bay campus, Ferreira appreciates the flexibility of the Leep online option as well as her scholarship.

Kelly Ferreira

ISAA seeks nominations for annual awards

The iSchool Alumni Association (ISAA) is seeking nominations for three distinguished awards. The awards are given annually at the iSchool alumni reception held at the American Library Association conference. The deadline for nomination is April 1, 2019.

Muhammad honored by BCALA for excellence in librarianship

Fayrene Muhammad (MS '01) has been selected as the 2018 winner of the DEMCO/ALA Black Caucus Award for Excellence in Librarianship. The annual award is presented to the librarian who has made significant contributions to promote the status of African Americans in the library profession. These contributions may include, but are not limited to, research and scholarship, recruitment, professional development, planning or implementation of programs, or advocacy.

Fayrene Muhammad

Linda C. Smith named Illinois Library Luminary

Professor and Executive Associate Dean Linda C. Smith (MS '72) has been named an Illinois Library Luminary by the Illinois Library Association (ILA). This distinction honors individuals whose efforts have made a significant contribution to Illinois libraries. Smith's nearly 50-year career began when she came to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Graduate School of Library Science (now the School of Information Sciences) in 1971 shortly after graduating summa cum laude in physics and mathematics from Allegheny College (PA). She received her MS from Illinois in 1972 and spent a year at Washington University School of Medicine Library in St. Louis as a trainee in computer librarianship. She then earned an MS in information and computer science from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1975 and a PhD from Syracuse University, School of Information Studies in 1979. 

Linda Smith, Professor and Executive Associate Dean