Four from East County college district recognized for contributions to community colleges
Three faculty members and an administrator from the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District are recipients of a national award recognizing community college teaching and leadership.
The honors were awarded to chemistry professor Jeff Lehman and adjunct Japanese instructor Asuka Kuratani, both from Grossmont College; Cuyamaca College Counselor Jesus Miranda; and the district’s former senior director of fiscal services Linda Jensen, who is serving as interim vice president of administrative services at Grossmont College.
The four were presented with the John and Suanne Roueche Excellence Awards at a conference in Chicago, Ill., 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 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.
“These wonderful community college educators embrace the inventive spirit and vision of the League for Innovation,” said Cindy L. Miles, chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District. “Student success is incumbent on the ingenuity and dedication of faculty and staff like these four.”
Lehman’s contributions to Grossmont College have been many. In addition to teaching chemistry since 1996, he was coordinator of the college’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning between 1999-2001, chaired the chemistry department from 2008 to 2013, and also served as student science club adviser, vice president of the Academic Senate, as a member of several college committees. He is also the college’s coordinator of emergency planning.
“I am thankful to work in an environment that attracts and encourages colleagues who take pride and ownership in their work, and are allowed a creative outlet,” said Lehman, who began as an educator in 1990 as a middle school science teacher.
Last fall, Lehman was awarded the college’s Distinguished Faculty award, a coveted committee-selected plaudit from the college’s Academic Senate. In 2013, the college awarded him the Spirit of 9/11 Award at an event commemorating the tragedies of the terrorist attacks. He was recognized for his emergency response work with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Cave & Technical Rescue Team, for whom he has completed more than 100 search and rescue missions, and the San Diego-based Disaster Medical Assistance Team CA-4, deployed in support of federal relief efforts such as the one that followed Hurricane Sandy.
Hired in October 2008 as an associate professor and counselor, Jesus Miranda’s mark on Cuyamaca College has been a significant one, both as the coordinator of the First Year Experience program, which targets young, at-risk students as they are introduced to college, and in multiple shared-governance committees including the Academic Senate.
Combining tutoring, counseling, assessments and educational planning to help targeted students thrive, FYE is credited for bringing students to Cuyamaca College who otherwise would have never dreamed of going beyond a high school. The program draws an average of 150 students a year mainly from two local high schools – Mount Miguel and Monte Vista – and approximately 90 percent of FYE students are low-income Hispanic students.
Miranda has a personal understanding of the challenges faced by FYE students. He was born in Fallbrook to immigrant parents from Mexico whose formal learning didn’t go beyond elementary school. After initially flunking out of college, he gave college a second try at MiraCosta College, where a program similar to FYE proved the missing component. His success there and transfer to the University of California, Riverside, where he earned his bachelor’s in Latin American Studies, is what made him a believer in programs geared toward disadvantaged students.
In addition to his FYE duties at Cuyamaca College, Miranda is also the Counseling Services Department chair, and has previously served as the vice president of the Academic Senate. Last fall he received Cuyamaca College’s Outstanding Faculty Award.
“It is a privilege to be employed at an institution where my colleagues and I are applauded for using our imagination and creativity to find innovative solutions to traditional barriers students face each day,” he said. “We are creating an educational institution where anyone, regardless of socioeconomics, gender, race, age, sexual orientation, legal status, and religion, can attend and receive a robust and holistic education that will lead to success in both their career and personal lives.”
It’s been nearly 20 years since Kuratani first came to Grossmont College from her native Japan to learn English. These days, she is back at the college teaching Japanese as an adjunct instructor. Besides the two classes at Grossmont, she also teaches Japanese at San Diego State University, where she earned her master’s degree in linguistics, and at Southwestern College.
“She is really dedicated to her students – they just love her,” said Yolanda Guerrero, a senior faculty member in Grossmont College’s World Languages program, who hired Kuratani in the mid-‘90s and has mentored her over the years.
Guerrero said Kuratani helped write the curricula and was instrumental in expanding the Japanese language program at Grossmont College. Her efforts have earned her several awards and recognitions, including an adjunct faculty award from San Diego State University’s Community College Leaders Alumni Group.
Kuratani has been a teacher since her college years in Tokyo, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Research of Arts and Design.
“I started teaching when I was 18 at a (college-prep) cram school and always loved teaching,” she said.
The biggest difference between Japanese and American students, she said, is the way that students interact with their instructors. In Japan, as a sign of respect, students keep a distance and rarely express their opinions in class, she said.
“I like teaching here better because I could be closer to my students and help them with what they need in a timely manner,” she said. “Grossmont College is like a part of my family now. Everyone at Grossmont College unites to help enhance student learning. I’m so delighted to see my students from Grossmont College be successful at SDSU after their transfer. After their graduation from SDSU, many of them pursue their careers in Japan.”
Linda Jensen’s blend of classroom know-how and business acumen has made her a valuable resource at the college district. She taught for 25 years at a private college in San Diego before she was hired as an accountant at the college district Auxiliary in 2003. During her two-year stint with the Auxiliary, she taught a computerized accounting class at Grossmont College.
In 2005, she transferred to the district accounting office before being promoted to the senior director of fiscal services for the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District. During the past year and a half, she has been tapped twice to fill in as interim vice president of administrative services at Grossmont College, a post she expects to hold until a permanent administrator is hired or her scheduled retirement at the end of August – whichever happens first.
Jensen, who earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Information Systems from San Diego State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix, regards her years with the college district a career highlight.
“I am unbelievably fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such a dedicated, motivated, and positive group of coworkers,” she said. “I consider so many of them the brick and mortar that make up the foundation of the GCCCD, while they work conscientiously to meet the needs of our students, faculty, staff and community.”
Jensen’s willingness to serve and excellent administrative skills have also proved invaluable as a member of numerous committees, including the district’s Educational Master Plan, Facilities Master Plan, the Budget Allocation Task Force; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council; and Administrative Technical Advisory Committee.
“I consider it a privilege to participate in the cultivation of a student-centered culture of responsible stewardship and service,” Jensen said. “Our entire team works diligently to help provide the resources and support that encourage our students to achieve their highest level of learning and success.”