Chosen by peers, Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges laud faculty
SPECIAL TO THE EAST COUNTY CALIFORNIAN
The names of the awards may be different, but the intent is the same: to honor the passion and dedication of faculty chosen by their peers as the year’s best at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges.
Four faculty members, two from each college, were honored recently with the academic year’s leading awards recognizing exemplary service to the campuses by either classroom or non-classroom faculty. The coveted committee-selected plaudits from each college’s Academic Senate are announced at fall semester convocations.
At Grossmont College, receiving the Distinguished Faculty honor for full-time, tenured faculty was Spanish instructor Yolanda Guerrero. An inaugural Distinguished Faculty award for part-time faculty was given to longtime math instructor Michael Lambe.
At Cuyamaca College, receiving the Outstanding Faculty Award for full-time faculty was Spanish instructor Patricia Santana; the honor for part-time faculty was given to Arabic instructor Aklas Sheia, who is only the college’s second recipient of the adjunct award.
Grossmont College awardees
A 28-year veteran instructor, Guerrero is the senior faculty member in the World Languages department and has seen much change in the program, not only in growth, but in more diverse offerings and a new approach to teaching foreign languages.
In 1986, she joined the World Language Department, which then consisted of only three full-time faculty teaching Spanish, French and German. Within three years, the San Diego native was chair of the program and was instrumental in the program’s transformation from its traditional language development approach to one that is now based on oral proficiency.
“It isn’t enough to know words and their meanings, you need to be able to converse,” said Guerrero,. Under her leadership, the department has added Chinese, Arabic, Japanese and Russian to its curricula, bringing to eight the total number of foreign languages taught at Grossmont College.
Over the years, her awards and recognitions have been numerous: she was accepted into the prestigious Fellowship Program from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and was one of 15 recipients in the United States selected by the foundation to participate in Leadership Development. A full professor, she has served as chair of the World Language Department for more than nine years and has been coordinator of Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Italian and Russian. She also received a two-year grant funded to improve articulation between San Diego State University and Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges. She received another grant to develop prerequisite exams for the department and helped develop 32 exams in eight languages that are currently administered to over 300 students.
“People here really make you feel at home,” she said. “In every department, you see such excellent people committed to the success of students. It truly is a great place to work.”
Guerrero said she also relishes the ties she has developed with students, both inside and outside the classroom. From her first days at Grossmont, she has helped organize Latino/Mexican cultural events, including the Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day celebrations in the Main Quad, and the Dia de los Muertos altars and Mexican masks exhibits in the library and tech mall.
“I learn from the students, just like they learn from me,” she said. “In order to keep the class more relevant to the times, they help me keep up with the current music and pop culture.”
First-ever part-time awardee
Math professor Michael Lambe’s (pronounced “lamb”) 36 years as part-time instructor at Grossmont College concurrent to his 39-year teaching career with the Grossmont Union High School District gave him a unique perspective and insight on nurturing student success. His dual career has made him especially aware of the need to make the transition from high school to college as seamless as possible and to ensure that what is being taught at the secondary level prepares students for higher education.
His interaction between Grossmont College and Monte Vista High School, where he was chair of the math department, made him a natural to help develop the first articulation agreement between the college and high school, which helps students make a smooth transition from high school to college without duplicating classes or experiencing delays.
“It’s been a fantastic career – I’ve been blessed,” Lambe said.
Lambe described his efforts on behalf of part-time instructors as a way of paying it forward.
“Even as a part-timer, I have done a lot of things that full-time department members do,” he said. “This is my profession – my calling and my love. This award is the greatest honor I have ever received. My colleagues couldn’t have given me anything greater and to be the first recipient is tremendous.”
President Sunita V. Cooke said Guerrero and Lambe exemplify Grossmont College’s faculty members who are passionate about teaching and motivated to boost their profession and their colleagues.
“The campus community owes a debt of gratitude to faculty members with that kind of dedication,” she said. “Their generosity is an inspiration to us all.”
Cuyamaca College honorees
Even after 35 years of teaching, Associate Professor Patricia Santana still gets butterflies in the pit of her stomach at the start of each semester.
“It is the challenge of getting students to appreciate the benefits and even the fun of learning another language,” said Santana, who was hired at Cuyamaca College as a part-time Spanish instructor in 1981, becoming full-time in 1997. She is currently chair of the World Languages Department.
The Outstanding Faculty Award was presented to Santana because of her active role in college committees and participatory governance. Faculty Senate President Alicia Munoz said Santana “advocated for faculty interest equitably and with integrity, without losing sight of the larger institutional goal.’
The author of two novels, “Motorcycle Ride on the Sea of Tranquility,” (University of New Mexico Press, 2002) and its sequel, “Ghosts of El Grullo,” (University of New Mexico Press, 2008), Santana is widely recognized in the field of Chicano literature. Santana’s debut novel was the first-place winner of the Chicano/Latino Literary Contest, and was selected as a Best Books for Young Adults selection in 2003 by the Young Adult Library Services Association.
Her second novel won the Premio Aztlán Literary Prize, a national award for emerging Chicana and Chicano authors, and the San Diego Book Award for General Fiction. Santana has completed a third, as-yet untitled book, for which she is currently seeking literary representation, and has started her fourth novel, which she calls the third in a trilogy that started with “Motorcycle Ride.”
Santana said that although she relishes summer breaks for the writing time they allow her, she doesn’t envision ever giving up teaching.
“I love the classroom too much and the satisfaction of seeing students progress,” she said. “By the second and third semester of Spanish, light bulbs are turning on as they become more conversant. I will retire when I no longer love to teach and I am nowhere near that.”
Outstanding Part-time Faculty Award
Arabic instructor Aklas Sheia does her best to make her students feel at home from the moment they walk into the classroom. From the welcoming sound of their native language to Sheia’s daily practice of bringing snacks, the roomful of mostly Iraqi refugees appreciate the effort. Their teacher’s promise of privacy encourages them to talk about tragedy and upheaval of their war-torn country, where Chaldeans like many in the class are targeted. Sheia encourages such discussions for their therapeutic value.
As much a class in beginning Arabic as it is a place of respite, Sheia said she could easily fill a classroom twice the size, given the student demand.
“I can feel their relief when they hear someone speak their language – they each have had such difficult experiences coming to this country, and now faced with the challenge of taking classes in English, it can be overwhelming,” said Sheia, who herself immigrated as a refugee along with her husband and daughter in 2005 after a year’s stay in Jordan.
Her daughter, Asma Yassi, who graduated from Cuyamaca College, then transferred to San Diego State University, received her master’s in counseling at Point Loma Nazarene University and two months ago returned to Cuyamaca as a part-time counselor. Fluent in English, Arabic and Chaldean, she counsels the same students her mother teaches.
A teacher in her native country with a bachelor’s in statistics, Sheia worked with the United Nations for a time, then a British newspaper, but when she and others at the paper began receiving death threats for being regarded as pro-Western, she sought refuge in the United States.
She was hired in 2008 at Cuyamaca College as a part-time Arabic teacher, but it wasn’t long before she began volunteering as a translator in the counseling department. As more and more refugee students began asking for her by name, and as the demand grew for services for the English As a Second Language students, Sheia was hired as a liaison to help them with applications and student services such as financial aid. A voiceover narration that she recorded in Arabic now helps students register online for classes. Also around the same period, she began taking social work classes at the college, earning her associate degree in 2010.
In submitted statements supporting Sheia’s nomination, fellow faculty remarked on her positive impact on students.
“She not only is an inspiration to me, but she touches the lives of our students and staff,” one counselor noted.
Describing herself as one who avoids the limelight, Sheia said she was stunned to hear her name announced at convocation. She credits the support and encouragement of her colleagues for making what she calls her “dream job” possible.
“Teaching is my passion and it is the only thing I know how to do in this world,” she said. “This is where I belong. The first time I came to Cuyamaca to try to find a job, I told the head of the department that there is a certain smell of dust in all classrooms that I have come to love. I told her I had a feeling that someday, my dream would come true to be able to teach at Cuyamaca.”
“Exemplary instructors such as Patricia Santana and Aklas Sheia are what make Cuyamaca College an educational jewel,” President Mark J. Zacovic said. “Their commitment to our students and the joy of learning that they instill in them is precious. They are so deserving of the accolades of their peers.”