Noted for their passion for teaching and as stalwart advocates for students, four instructors at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges are recipients of top faculty awards.
The Distinguished Faculty awards for Grossmont College history instructor Sue Gonda and biology professor Craig Milgrim were announced at fall convocation, as were the Outstanding Faculty awards at Cuyamaca College for physics instructor Keenan Murray and biology instructor Christina Burnett.
Gonda and Milgrim tied for their awards, a first for Grossmont College faculty. Murray is the winner of the Outstanding Faculty Award for full-time faculty, while Burnett, a 12-year veteran instructor, is the standout winner of the adjunct award.
Chancellor Lynn Neault said faculty’s commitment to student success are reflected in the highly regarded education Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges provide.
“These award winners exemplify the extraordinary commitment of our faculty, especially during these challenging times,” she said. “The pandemic has changed our world in so many ways, but our faculty have never veered from their mission to help students achieve their dreams.”
Arriving at Grossmont College in 1996, Gonda introduced American women’s history courses to the history department’s curricula. In addition, she served as Curriculum Committee chair, Academic Senate president and acting dean of English and Social Behavioral Sciences.
The Detroit native moved to San Diego in 1981 and earned a bachelor’s in history from San Diego State University and a master’s and a doctorate from UCLA in American history.
Her past awards include the college’s President’s Leadership Award in 2008, an Outstanding Faculty Award from the division of Humanities and Social Science in 2004, and in June, her induction into the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame.
In accepting the award, Gonda thanked Grossmont College employees and students for creating an environment conducive to progress. She said some of her most rewarding work has been with diversity and inclusion, especially as chair of the Cross-Cultural Studies Department, reviving ethnic and gender studies curriculum and course offerings and creating partnerships across the campus.
“Grossmont has an energy – an attitude that allows faculty to thrive and to act on our passions,” she said, adding that sharing the award with Milgrim is a joy because of their shared experiences as new Grossmont retirees and as openly LGBTQ faculty who have served as advisers to LGBTQ students.
A Grossmont College faculty member from 1993 until his recent retirement, Milgrim noted that he has taught some 8,000 students in his career.
“That’s what we do here - we change the world every time we help students acquire new knowledge and skills,” Milgrim said, adding that he is honored to share the award with Gonda, his long-time colleague.
After earning his bachelor’s in biological sciences from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s in botany from the University of Vermont, Milgrim moved to Phoenix, then Los Angeles, where he served as an educational administrator. Returning to Phoenix, he was hired as an adjunct instructor at Maricopa Community Colleges.
When he was hired at Grossmont, Milgrim found a surrogate family in the biology department.
“I love the camaraderie at Grossmont among the faculty and classified professionals,” he said.
He helped students form an LGBT student club in the ‘90s and created partnerships with Scripps, UCSD, and the Southern California Biotechnology Center (SCBC) to advance biotechnology education. The partnership with SCBC led to a biotechnology internship program serving underrepresented students from area high schools.
Milgrim served as co-chair of the biology department from 2007-2020, as the Academic Senate representative to planning and budget committees and helped bring AFT Local 1931 to the district.
He currently serves as an elected trustee for the San Diego Community College District.
“As the first openly gay member of the board, I received a warm welcome from the very active gay political community,” he said, adding that he serves as the board’s Vice President of Diversity and Equity.
Described as humble and imminently approachable as an instructor, Murray created a virtual space for students to learn, experiment, and spend time with others. His commitment to student support and success remained strong through the spring’s rapid transition to remote learning.
Beyond simply holding office hours, Murray created a Zoom Room for students to have easy access to their instructor and peers while doing their homework.
One student noted, “Many of my teachers haven’t been as accessible during the pandemic… but he has been as, if not more, available to his students.”
Murray was also recognized for regularly checking on fellow faculty to see how well they were dealing with the new normal of remote instruction.
The same caring is reflected in his community work as a cabin counselor for Camp Ronald McDonald, a camp focused on providing fun and a respite for children with cancer.
He holds a doctorate in environmental engineering and has worked for the San Diego Air Pollution Control District and UCSD, as well as an instructor for CSU, Fullerton and University of Phoenix.
First hired as an adjunct instructor, he joined Cuyamaca College as a full-timer in January 2019, teaching engineering and physics.
One nominator described him as “a shining example of why community college is so approachable and useful for so many people.”
Christina Burnett, an adjunct biology instructor at Cuyamaca College since 2008, has been described as “incredibly passionate about the success of students.”
This theme of student success is highlighted throughout her nomination as the Outstanding Part-time Faculty. Praised for her innovation, integrating games and hands-on activities into the curriculum, Burnett has led faculty workshops highlighting dynamic interactions.
Using her platform as an educator, Burnett informs students about environmental issues and wildlife conservation, organizing field trips where students apply classroom lessons to gain first-hand knowledge. She led hikes around the campus to demonstrate habitat restoration efforts.
Committed to wildlife and environmental restorations, she volunteers with the Lakeside River Park Conservancy and I Love a Clean San Diego and has facilitated cleanups of the Cuyamaca Nature Preserve.
“In all my years as a student, I have never had a more enthusiastic professor as passionate about their role…every encounter I have with (her) is accompanied by her interest in how I am doing or my progress in school,” noted one student.