Thursday, September 17, 2015

Trio picked as year's best faculty at two colleges

Academic Senate President Tate Hurvitz,
Chemistry professor Jeff Lehman
A chemistry professor, a counselor and an English instructor have been selected by their peers as the academic year’s best faculty members, honored with top awards recognizing exemplary service to the campuses. The coveted committee-selected plaudits from each college’s Academic Senate are announced at fall semester convocations.

 At Grossmont College, receiving the Distinguished Faculty honor was chemistry professor Jeff Lehman. At Cuyamaca College, receiving the Outstanding Faculty Award for full-time faculty was counselor Jesus Miranda; the honor for part-time faculty was given to English instructor Seth Slater.

Academic Senate President Alicia Muñoz
 Counselor Jesus Miranda

Academic Senate President Alicia Muñoz
English instructor Seth Slater

 Jeff Lehman
Lehman  began teaching chemistry at Grossmont College in 1996 after three years as an adjunct chemistry instructor at Mt. San Antonio Community College in Walnut, Calif., and as a  chemistry lecturer during the same years at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where he received his master’s in 1993.
Following a stint as a chemist at a hazardous waste removal firm and as a research assistant at the radiocarbon-dating lab at University of California, Riverside, where he earned his bachelor’s in chemistry and his elementary and secondary teaching credentials, Lehman began as an educator in 1990 as a middle school science teacher.

Born and raised in Pasadena, Lehman describes his upbringing as a “Brady Bunch” existence with a sister and four step-siblings. His father, an elementary school teacher, remarried when Lehman lost his mother at the age of 10.

“I don’t know if it was the influence of my father, but I always knew that I wanted to teach,” he said. “
His community college teaching career came about because of Mt. San Antonio Community College’s proximity to Cal Poly.

“It was at Mt. SAC that I discovered that teaching at the community college was a mix of some of the things that I liked about high school and middle school, and some of the things that I liked about the four-year institution,” he said.

With large lawns and mostly single-story buildings, Grossmont College looked much different in the mid-‘90s, but from the first time he stepped onto the campus, he said he knew this was where he wanted to be.
“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,” he said in his acceptance speech for the Distinguished Faculty Award.

From being the coordinator of the college’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning between 1999-2001, the chemistry department chair from 2008 to 2013, a student science club adviser, vice president of the Academic Senate, coordinator of emergency planning, and member of several college committees, Lehman’s contributions to Grossmont College have been many.

“Jeff Lehman has served Grossmont College tirelessly as both an expert in his chosen discipline of chemistry and as a master teacher,” said Academic Senate President Tate Hurvitz. “As a faculty leader, he possesses the rare combination of commitment to a personal vision for excellence and the flexibility of mind to be able to work collaboratively with others to achieve great ends.”

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.

President Nabil Abu-Ghazaleh said Grossmont College’s faculty members are passionate about teaching and motivated to boost their profession and their colleagues.

“Faculty members like Jeff Lehman are an inspiration to us all,” he said. “The dedication and professionalism he displays has earned the gratitude and respect of the entire campus community.”

Jesus Miranda
Hired in October 2008 as an associate professor and counselor, Jesus Miranda’s mark on Cuyamaca has been a significant one, colleagues and administrators say. As coordinator of the First Year Experience program, his leadership and dedication to his work on behalf of young, at-risk students mostly of Hispanic heritage has proven FYE to be a lifeline for many.

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. Drawing students from two local high schools – Mount Miguel and Monte Vista – approximately 90 percent of FYE students are low-income, Hispanic students.

“Because of the commitment and hard work on the part of the FYE instructors, counselors and the students themselves, FYE students are succeeding academically – completing classes, persisting, earning degrees and transferring,”  reads a nomination form submitted for the faculty award lauding faculty members’ contribution to the college and its students outside of the classroom.

Despite the program’s success, FYE operates on a shoestring budget, so Miranda seeks grants and endlessly promotes the program on and off campus.

Miranda describes receiving the award as “awesome,” and shares the credit for FYE’s success with coworkers.
“I also must note that without the mentors and colleagues I have had, along with the team around me that I was able to construct, I could not do what I do for our students,” he said.

Born in Fallbrook with parents from Mexico whose formal learning didn’t go beyond elementary school, Miranda said education was regarded as a luxury. He has a personal understanding of the challenges faced by FYE students.

“I never felt like I was expected to do much,” said Miranda, who went to Palomar College after high school. “So when I attempted college after high school, I was academically dismissed after my first year. I never had a chance.”

A friend’s encouragement led to another try at college, this time 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.

Miranda initially planned to pursue a career in business, but a debilitating car accident in June 2000 and two years of therapy and rehabilitation prompted a redirection. He completed coursework requirements for a master’s in education from San Diego State University, then received his master’s in counseling with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy from SDSU.

“As I was finishing my MFT degree in 2006, I realized community college was a viable option for a career and I quickly made the jump,” he said.

Prior to coming to Cuyamaca College, Miranda was a counselor and outreach coordinator at Mesa College, a general counselor at MiraCosta College, and associate professor of psychology, also at MiraCosta.
In addition to his FYE duties at Cuyamaca College, Miranda also serves as vice president of the Academic Senate and has participated in numerous shared-governance committees and planning councils for strategic planning, budgeting, college policies and procedures and more. Miranda said that Senate participation is a must for those interested in having a voice in the college’s decision-making process.

“ My time at Cuyamaca has been great, and the things I enjoy the most are the people we assist and my colleagues,” he said.

Seth Slater
Slater first came to Cuyamaca College in 2006 when his work toward a master’s in fine arts from Antioch University in Los Angeles included field work as a tutor in the college’s Writing Center.

“At the time, it was a hole-in-the-wall tutoring center – very small with a staff to match,” he said. The Writing Center is now in a spacious room in the college’s $45 million, high-tech Communication Arts Building. “But it had a nice, homey feel. There is a real family feeling here at the college and I love that. I think our students feel that, too.”

Slater, who received his bachelor’s in history from the University of California, San Diego, went on to earn his MFA and a post-graduate certificate in pedagogy specializing in university-level teaching.

His nine years as an adjunct instructor include the past eight at Cuyamaca College and the six he spent at Southwestern College.

As the adjunct recipient of the college’s Outstanding Faculty award, Slater was lauded for his service on the Cuyamaca College Academic Senate, which he was elected to by his peers in 2011, in addition to his committee work for the college.

“As part-time senator, Seth was diligent in advocating for resources for part time faculty workrooms,” said Academic Senate President Alicia Munoz. “Because of budget constraints, supplies for part-time faculty workrooms were seriously reduced.  Undaunted, he pursued multiple avenues until he was able to secure the necessary resources for the faculty he represents.”

Munoz added that when the chair of the college’s accreditation steering committee resigned, a replacement could not be found for the critical task of leading Cuyamaca’s accreditation efforts. Slater stepped up to fill the void when the search was broadened to include adjunct faculty. Slater called the award a big honor and said his service to the college reflects his gratitude for the support he has received from colleagues.

“As an adjunct instructor, I really appreciate the fact that full-time faculty here at Cuyamaca College really support part-time instructors and encourage their participation in the Academic Senate,” he said.

Slater’s career as an educator followed several restless years spent “learning about life and its stumbling blocks.” Originally from Yonkers, N.Y., he moved with his family at age 7 to Orange County after his father accepted a teaching post at UC Irvine. After raising four children, his mother became a nurse.

A Hemingway devotee, Slater’s past jobs resemble the grand adventures and exploits of the legendary author.  Dolphin trainer for the U.S. Navy.  Newspaper reporter and editor. Wrangler and trail guide for a mule-packing outfit in the Eastern Sierras. Deckhand aboard a commercial fishing boat in Alaska.  SCUBA instructor in the Florida Keys and Southern California.  Night-shift taxi driver on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.

And like “Papa” Hemingway, Slater has used his lively, meandering past as source material for his writing. In addition to being an adjunct English and creative writing instructor at Cuyamaca College, he writes a regular blog column for Psychology Today magazine.  His essay, “An Admirable Hard Start,” about his time as a trail guide was included in a recently published anthology about working in the national parks.

 “My parents were always supportive of me, no matter what I did, but I came to realize the truth of what my mother always said -- I needed to go back to school, and so I did,” said Slater whose adventures also include twice camping his way across the southern states in a pickup truck, a Siberian husky and a kayak always near his side.

His teaching career included two years leading extension courses in creative writing classes at UCSD, but he finds fulfillment in teaching community college students.

“I love the interaction I have with my students,” he said. “They come from different types of backgrounds, but all come on a quest. What intrigues me is to watch people go from having a strictly academic interest in a grade to developing a genuine interest in a subject. They become personally invested.”

      Interim college president Wei Zhou said faculty members like Miranda and Slater exemplify the faculty at Cuyamaca College.

 “Caring instructors are what make Cuyamaca College an educational jewel,” he said. “Their commitment to our students is without peer.”

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