Monday, September 17, 2018

Outstanding faculty lauded by peers at Grossmont, Cuyamaca colleges

Three instructors at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges have been selected by their peers as among the academic year’s best faculty members. The honorees were announced at fall convocations in recognition of their exemplary service to the two East County campuses. 

Donald Jones, a part-time Water and Wastewater Technology instructor, was honored with the Outstanding Faculty Award for being a driving force behind the new Center for Water Studies at Cuyamaca College. At Grossmont College, English Department chair Oralee Holder was lauded with the full-time Distinguished Faculty Award and sociology instructor Richard Unis was named winner of the adjunct Distinguished Faculty Award. 

Chancellor Cindy Miles said it is the caring and commitment of faculty that have made Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges such stellar institutions. 

“These outstanding educational leaders have done so much for our colleges and have worked hard to make transformational changes in how students learn,” Miles said. “We are fortunate to have such dedicated faculty who are strongly committed to the success of students.”

Donald Jones
Jones began attending San Diego State University in the mid-1960s with aspirations to become a high school geography teacher and coach. But a summer job with the City of San Diego Water Department’s Lakes Recreation Program took him in another direction after finding that working the boat docks and maintaining the lakes better suited his love of the outdoors. 

He spent the next 42 years in the water industry, eventually running the San Diego Water Department’s safety and training program and becoming the safety and risk manager for the Vista Irrigation District in the mid-1990s until retiring in 2007. Over the years, he also continued his education, earning an associate degree from Grossmont College; a bachelor’s degree and graduate courses in Public Administration from SDSU, and a master’s degree in Human Resources and Organization from the University of San Francisco. 

Jones was also active on the education front, developing the Water and Wastewater Technology program at Mesa College during the late ‘70s. He has worked with the program at Cuyamaca College since 2003, where, he helped secure more than $2 million dollars in grant funding and partnered with local agencies to make the Cuyamaca program a key to training the next generation of water industry professionals. 

Jones has spent the past five years leading the program’s transformation into the Center for Water Studies, replete with a new state-of-the-art training facility and an outdoor field operations skills yard for students to develop hands-on skills. It is a fully functional water and wastewater system built above ground for easy access to the pipes, valves and tanks that students become adept at handling. 

 “With these unparalleled facilities, comprehensive curricula and experienced faculty, we feel that our Center for Water Studies is a flagship program, not only in the California Community College system, but in the western states,” Jones said.

  Brad Monroe, professor emeritus with the college’s Ornamental Horticulture program, had high praise for the veteran instructor and past program coordinator. 

“As a 37-year department chair, I hired and evaluated more than 100 faculty members over the years and I have never known any faculty member – full-time or adjunct -- as dedicated, innovative, and consistently providing leadership at all levels than Don Jones," he said in a letter of support.

Oralee Holder

Holder is well known for her long history of campus leadership since she became a part-time instructor at Grossmont College in 1985. She joined the ranks of full-time faculty in 1990 and has served as Academic Senate president, and, for the last 12 years, as chair of the English Department. Holder is also a founding board member of the college’s Latinx Alliance and serves on numerous campus committees. 

Holder was also lauded for her efforts since 2013 to improve assessment and placement of thousands of students in English classes. Her work with the East County Education Alliance -- a partnership between the college and the Grossmont Union High School District -- have helped clarify pathways for students from high school to college. 

Holder’s experience as a university professor in the Midwest before her move to Grossmont College makes her a bit of an anomaly.  After graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in English from California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, the San Diego native earned her master’s degree in English from Southern Illinois University and her doctorate, also in English, from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

She was hired in 1979 at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., where she taught literature and composition until 1985, when a death in her family brought her back to San Diego for what she thought was a temporary leave of absence. Family obligations made the move permanent, and although her university colleagues were somewhat skeptical that she would find teaching community college students a satisfying career shift, Holder said they could not have been more wrong.

“It was readily apparent that I could make a difference in the lives of our students at Grossmont College, many of whom had never imagined college in their futures and who would be facing innumerable obstacles to their success,” she said. “There was no college-going tradition in my family. Because I had doubted my own worthiness to be a student, let alone to flourish and succeed, I knew the fear and anxiety many of my students faced.”

Holder said Grossmont College’s focus in recent years on equity in education and removing barriers to student success are the right approach. “The work the college is doing right now in support of students is very heartening and exceptional – and I am proud to continue to be part of these efforts,” she said.

Richard Unis
A professional photographer, as well as an adjunct sociology instructor at Grossmont College for  12 years, Richard Unis understands the power of visual images to convey political or social messages. 

In 2008, he had students create a public art installation of 30,000 chopsticks inserted into lawns around the campus to represent the number of children who lose their lives each day to poverty-related diseases.  Last year, he launched the Stand with Students Project, a social media campaign for educators and others to post photos of themselves standing next to a white or blackboard with a handwritten message of inclusion for immigrant, refugee and DACA students. 

Bernadette Johnston photo//Richard Unis
The New Jersey native, the oldest of four brothers and the first to go to college, earned his bachelor’s degree from Ithaca College and a master’s in sociology from the London School of Economics and Political Science. The sociology department had a human rights component to it that led Unis to Geneva, where he and others in his class served as student representatives at the United Nations in 2005. That experience exposed him to global issues that he and his wife, a fellow sociologist, have documented as photographers. A collection of photos they took for a local non-profit promoting the need for adequate healthcare was displayed inside the Capitol Building just prior to the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act.

“What I like best about Grossmont is the students,” he said. “Our students are dedicated, well-intentioned and often bring perspective and experience into the classroom, which makes teaching sociology interesting and rewarding.”