Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Math instructor calculating in making subject approachable to students

 Five instructors at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges have been selected by their peers as the academic year’s best faculty members. The honorees were lauded at fall convocations for exemplary service to the East County campuses.

At Grossmont College, art history professor Marion de Koning received the Distinguished Faculty Award, and Administration of Justice instructor Shaun Donelson was picked for the adjunct award. At Cuyamaca College, English instructor Lauren Halsted and math instructor Terrie Nichols are co-winners of the Outstanding Faculty Member Award, and Arabic instructor Aklas Sheai received the award for adjunct faculty.

Here's a profile of one of the recipients, the third of an occasional series:

Terrie Nichols
Thinking back to her senior year in high school when her biggest achievement was ditching 54 days of classes, Cuyamaca College math instructor Terrie Nichols said it was only through the miracle of community college that she is where she is today.

Divorced with two young boys and pregnant with her third, Nichols returned to school in her late 20s, enrolling at Cuyamaca College. With no job skills, she viewed Cuyamaca as an opportunity to improve her lot in life. The move proved transformational.

“A counselor placed me into an English class and an elementary algebra class that first semester,” she said. “While watching the instructor prove the quadratic formula in that basic skills math class, I fell in love with math and decided right then and there that I wanted to be a math teacher – and more specifically a math teacher at Cuyamaca College.”

So intent was Nichols on attaining her goal that after earning her bachelor’s and master’s in pure mathematics from San Diego State University, she took a job as a secretary, biding her time until a Cuyamaca teaching position became available.

“I refused to apply for a teaching job at another college,” she said. 

Eighteen months later in fall 1995, Cuyamaca announced a tenure-track position in math and Nichols spent more than 70 hours preparing her application, writing and rewriting her responses to 11 essay questions. 

“When the college offered me the position, I was filled with gratitude,” the Alpine resident said. “I knew I would be able to provide the quality of life I wanted for my sons, and the big bonus -- I would be able to pursue my passion while giving back to the Cuyamaca community what the college gave to me.”

Nichols’ teaching innovations have set many remedial students on an accelerated path to successfully complete a university transfer-level math course. The state awarded the college a $1.5 million Basic Skills Initiative Transformation Grant in March, a grant-writing effort led by Nichols. She was also instrumental in the college last month receiving a nearly $2.6 million grant funded through the U.S. Department of Education’s Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program. 

The nomination form for Nichols’ Outstanding Faculty Member award describes the math teacher as “relentless” in her pursuits and also highlights her tireless efforts toward student success. Academic President Alicia Muñoz said she has made a huge impact on students being able to complete degrees and for many to transfer to universities.

Nichols is characteristically self-effacing about the praise heaped upon her.

 “I have been a pain in the hind quarters in my unyielding quest to implement accelerated learning in math, English, and ESL at Cuyamaca,” she said. “I feel that I should apologize to every college constituency. And now, they’ve encouraged me by giving me this award.”

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