Cuyamaca College instructors in health education and graphic design and an expert in online learning at Grossmont College have been lauded as among the academic year’s top faculty at the two East County campuses.
Janet Gelb, distance education coordinator at Grossmont College, received the President’s Leadership Award, one of the highest honors recognizing distinguished service to the college. At Cuyamaca College, Scott Herrin, a former dean who decided last year to return to the classroom as a health education instructor, received the 2018 Award for Teaching Excellence. Tom Bugzavich, a graphic design instructor, was the part-time faculty recipient of the same award.
“Our dedicated students deserve the best instructors and educational resources that we can provide,” said Cindy L. Miles, chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District. “These award winners are second to none in their commitment to the success of our students.”
Gelb was described as the “go-to” person for all things related to distance education by Grossmont College Vice President of Academic Affairs Katrina VanderWoude, who nominated her for the teaching award.
Gelb’s work as the point person behind the college’s website conversion and the lead person in an online education initiative that involved more than 200 faculty members receiving training and certification made it an easy call to select her for the award, Grossmont College President Nabil Abu-Ghazaleh said.
A native of Cape Town, South Africa, Gelb arrived in the United States in the late ‘70s to accommodate her husband’s job relocation.
“These were the dark years of apartheid which cast their shadow over everyone and everything, not least of all the field of education,” she said.
After two years in New Jersey, the family decided to head to the West Coast in 1980. “We arrived in San Diego with no jobs and no place to stay, but knew of a small South African community that assisted us,” Gelb said.
With a bachelor’s degree in social work from Johannesburg, Gelb found it difficult to get a job, so she came to Grossmont College to study programming in the Computer Science Information Systems department and completed an internship in the business office. That was followed by a job as an IT computer specialist, and adjunct instructor, which eventually led to a led to a fulltime teaching position in the CSIS department.
After a long tenure as a Computer Science Information Systems faculty member and department coordinator, Gelb saw an opportunity for growth when a vacancy arose in 2014 for a distance education coordinator position.
Gelb said she said she was “thrilled and very humbled” to receive the teaching award.
“I love my job and this district has been very good to me,” she added. “I have always enjoyed being involved in innovation.”
Scott Herrin is an unconventional thinker – the kind of person who is unafraid of breaking the rules and following what’s in his heart.
His belief in the community college system and his desire to walk in his students’ shoes prompted him to enroll in online classes through Cuyamaca College in order to earn an associate degree in Lifelong Health and Well-being in 2016. He got the degree even though he already had a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi, and a doctorate in educational leadership from San Diego State University.
First hired at the Rancho San Diego college in 2010 as the associate dean of athletics, Herrin was promoted as dean of math, science and engineering in 2012. Herrin surprised colleagues last year when he decided to step down from his position as dean to take on a faculty position at the college teaching Public Health.
“I always had a passion for teaching,” said Herrin, who started his career teaching general studies courses in 2000 at his alma mater in Mississippi. “At the same time, I love my children, who are 9 and 7, to death. I wanted to be more present in their lives and teaching gives me that flexibility. I am PTA president, I volunteer in the classroom and help them with reading.”
Herrin’s decision benefitted his family and proved to be a huge plus for his students. He was selected for Cuyamaca College’s Teaching Excellence Award based on nominations from students who highly praised the new full-time instructor.
“Scott is one of the best instructors I’ve ever had,” one student wrote. “He focuses on teaching us for life, not just to pass this course.”
“You can tell that he loves what he’s doing and he cares about all of his students,” wrote another.
When announced as the winner of the full-time faculty award at Cuyamaca College’s convocation, Herrin paid tribute to his friend and mentor, Donna Riley, a professor of Exercise Science and Health Education, who died last June.
“Donna Riley was and always will be a special person to me,” Herrin said. “She was involved in hiring me three different times by sitting on hiring committees for my three positions at Cuyamaca. This last time, she knew her prognosis and that her time was limited. She told me to take care of her department. By receiving the award, I felt it was a sign that I took her advice heart and accepted a legacy she handed down.”
The student comments that helped Cuyamaca College Graphic Design instructor Tom Bugzavich win the Teaching Excellence Award for adjunct faculty say it all:
“Tom is passionate and really cares about his field. He really wants his students to do well...One of the best teachers I have ever had the good fortune to learn from…One of the best, if not the best, instructors I’ve had. His love of teaching is obvious.”
As coordinator of the department, Bugzavich is committed to establishing a strong graphic design program to draw students from throughout the county to Cuyamaca College.
“Everyone here, including myself, are rolling up our sleeves to help build a quality program that gets our students jobs in the professional marketplace,” said Bugzavich, who has been teaching at Cuyamaca College since 2005.
Bugzavich said his teaching career resulted more by happenstance than by design. Shortly after starting a new job in 1987 as a graphic designer for Southwestern College in Chula Vista, he was approached by the dean of visual arts to teach a graphics class after the instructor abruptly quit.
With a bachelor’s in graphic design and a master’s in visual communication design, both from Kent State University, Bugzavich figured he had the academic chops if not the teaching experience to take on the challenge and discovered an instant liking for the classroom. Despite the limitations of the computers being used at the time, the students showed remarkable creativity in their work, he said.
Bugzavich said his time in college studying abroad in Switzerland left an indelible mark and he strives to inspire his students in the same way he was by Swiss designers.
“I feel as though when you do something that you love it’s easy to get other people excited about it,” he said. “Follow your heart is what I try to expound to my students.”