CONJOINT Associate Professor Seamus Fagan said it was a "complete surprise" to receive the email saying he was being made a Member of the Order of Australia.
"I thought it was maybe a fake one and someone was pulling my leg, then when I saw the insignia of the Governor General's office I knew that it was serious," he said.
"I am quite elated and very pleased.
"I came here as a migrant in 1988 and when I arrived here I never thought I would get such a great honour."
Ireland-born Conjoint Associate Professor Fagan AM has worked in Egypt, Southern Sudan and Lesotho but now lives in Belmont.
He has been honoured for significant service to tertiary education, particularly to English language teaching.
When he arrived in Australia, there were only 11,000 international students studying English.
He had a national leadership role in lifting this to 175,000 last year.
He has been director of the University of Newcastle's English Language and Foundation Studies Centre, which includes the Language Centre and three enabling programs New Step, Open Foundation and Yapug.
He has also served on the board of English Australia, University English Centres Australia and the National ELT Accreditation Scheme.
Conjoint Associate Professor Fagan also has a passion for enabling education and played a key role in the establishment of a national enabling educator's conference, as well as the National Association of Enabling Educators of Australia.
"I came from a family of eight so I was fortunate to be the only one to go to university," he said.
"It engendered in me a passion that education should be available for all and education can transform.
It helped to transform me and gave me a great career that I'm very fortunate to have.
"I've always had a passion to help people who've had challenging journeys in their lives to get an opportunity to go to university and I was very fortunate to come to Newcastle, which has one of the largest enabling programs in Australia."
Conjoint Professor Fagan said it was crucial the government continued funding enabling programs to ensure they remained free for students.
He and his wife Jayce have set up the Jayce and Seamus Fagan Enabling Program Scholarship, which provides much-needed financial support to one student completing an enabling program each year.
The couple also volunteer with various community groups involved with providing support for people from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds.
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