Four from East County college district recognized for contributions to community colleges
A trio of instructors from Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges and a senior administrator are recipients of a national award recognizing community college teaching and leadership.
Dan Curtis, Cuyamaca College math instructor; Yolanda Guerrero, Grossmont College Spanish professor; Michael Lambe, Grossmont College math professor; and Sue Rearic, district vice chancellor of business services, were presented the John and Suanne Roueche Excellence Awards at a conference in Boston, Mass., this week that drew community college representatives from across the nation. The award is from the League for Innovation in the Community College, an international consortium of community colleges and their districts, and 160 corporate partners.
The award is named after the president of the Roueche Graduate Center at National American University, and his wife, a senior lecturer in the department of Educational Administration at the University of Texas at Austin from 2000-2012. The two academic scholars -- authors of dozens of books and hundreds of articles about community college leadership -- have partnered with the League for Innovation on numerous community college initiatives in the past 37 years.
“Our terrific team of award winners exemplify the inventive philosophy that the League for Innovation stands for,” said Cindy L. Miles, chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, and former chief operating officer for the League. “Student success is incumbent on the ingenuity and dedication of faculty and staff like these four.”
Curtis, who has been teaching at Cuyamaca College for nine years, is a former Grossmont College student who went on to earn a master’s in math from the University of California, San Diego. In addition to the Roueche Award, Curtis is also this year’s recipient of the Cuyamaca College Award for Teaching Excellence. He was highly praised by students who credit him for helping them overcome their fear of math.
“I feel like I make a big difference teaching community college students,” he said. Curtis primarily teaches calculus and linear algebra, but it is the math class for non-math majors that he finds most fulfilling as an instructor.
“I feel the biggest compliment I ever received was a comment I received in a student review: ‘I almost like math now,’” he said. “I know that everyone comes to my class hating math, and just the fact that I help students realize that math is something they can do and that it is fun and interesting – that’s very satisfying.”
A 28-year veteran instructor, Guerrero is the senior faculty member in the World Languages department at Grossmont College, 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, a then-sparsely staffed program that only offered classes in 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.
“I teach with passion because I love what I do,” said Guerrero, who last year received the Distinguished Faculty honor at the college for full-time faculty. “I encourage students to become active learners and to use whatever resources are available, even if it means eavesdropping at grocery stores. Sharing my love for the Spanish language and culture with students is what motivates and inspires me.”
Rearic began her tenure as financial chief of the East County college district in 2008, at the start of the most difficult chapter in the college district’s financial history – a four-year period that saw state funding for the district cut by $16 million, resulting in the loss of more than 1,600 class sections at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges. Her keen understanding of the district’s financial blueprint and ability to accurately forecast and navigate the fiscal tsunamis after taking the helm as CFO has kept the district at an even keel, with balanced budgets and spotless audits year after year.
As vice chancellor-business services, Rearic is the leader of District Services, which has about 100 workers in areas such as accounting, payroll, purchasing and information systems.
“As vice chancellor, I lead a team that knows it’s doing a good job, even when nobody notices,” said Rearic, who was named 2014 CFO of the Year for education by the San Diego Business Journal. “I am motivated daily by knowing what we do behind the scenes, including technology for classrooms, financial aid and parking for students, and payroll to faculty, are critical factors in our students’ success.”
Math professor Michael Lambe’s (pronounced “lamb”) 36 years as a 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.
“Throughout my schooling, I was very fortunate to experience teachers who inspired one to learn,” said Lambe, who was Grossmont College’s first adjunct winner of the Distinguished Faculty Award in 2014. “The concept of learning became my passion. I started teaching 50 years ago - long before technology and mathematics reform -- so I modeled my teaching style after my mentors. I listened to my students. I shared my passion for learning and helped them take their fears and anxieties and turn those energies in a positive direction. Once fear is removed, learning can commence.”