Thursday, November 16, 2017

Grossmont College instructors a distinguished pair

Biology professor Michael Golden

A veteran biology professor and a German instructor at Grossmont have been selected by their peers as recipients of the 2017-18 Distinguished Faculty Awards for their excellence as educators and exemplary service to the college.

Biology instructor Michael Golden received the award for full-time faculty, and German instructor Astrid Ronke was picked for the adjunct award.
German instructor Astrid Ronke

College President Nabil Abu-Ghazaleh said the faculty awards recognize the two faculty members’ immeasurable contributions and their stellar work representing the excellence of Grossmont College.

 “Our students thrive because of the commitment and caring of faculty like Professor Golden and Dr. Ronke,” he said. “Grossmont College is truly fortunate to benefit from their knowledge and remarkable abilities to connect with their students.”

A Golden year
For Golden, the award caps a quarter-century at Grossmont College, where he began teaching in 1993. The Bay Area native was a first-generation college student and credits his own community college experience for his choice of careers.

“I was not well prepared out of high school to go to a four-year university,” he said. “Nobody in my family or the neighborhoods I grew up in were college bound.”

Students describe him as empathetic and supportive, with a genuine interest in their success.
 “Professor Golden is passionate, motivational, and extremely knowledgeable,” reads one student’s comment in an online critique of Grossmont College instructors. “His lectures, although not normally structured, were amazing. I learned so much, and I always looked forward to going to class.”

Golden’s contributions to Grossmont College have been many, including developing and teaching the first online course in 2000, maintaining the college’s coastal sage scrub reserve since1993; and bringing the Bridges to the Future program, a federally funded partnership with San Diego State University to increase the number of under-represented minorities transferring to four-year colleges to study biology. His leadership in the Bridges program earned him SDSU’s Homer Peabody Award for Teaching and Mentoring in 2010. 

A founding member and first chair of Grossmont College’s World Arts and Culture Committee, Golden embraces diversity and is well-recognized for pursuing social justice and equal opportunity for students, faculty, and classified staff.

“When I think of Michael Golden, I think about social justice and fair-mindedness,” history professor Sue Gonda said. The staunch advocate of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students donated the $500 he received for his faculty award as a scholarship for undocumented students.

Golden said his working-class background and his own discovery of the promise of higher education through community college have engendered a special relationship with his students.

“Laney College in Oakland was the place I discovered I could actually be successful in school,” he said. “I was so impressed by the experience, and I have always loved Gandhi’s quote; ‘Be the change you want to see in the world,’ that I thought, that’s what I want to be, a community college instructor.”

Marriage of body, mind and spirit

Ronke starts her German classes with a few minutes of stretching and calisthenics, which she leads in her native German to get students’ bodies and minds warmed up for learning. She points to neuro-psychological studies that support her theory that students learn faster and retain knowledge longer when intellect, emotion and movement are engaged in the classroom.

The Berlin native, an adjunct instructor of German at Grossmont College since 2002, also has been incorporating drama and music in her holistic approach to teaching college students, as well as children and teens in a German immersion program she helped found in 1997 at Balboa Park’s House of Germany and at Albert Einstein Academies in San Diego.

Her innovative approach to teaching at Grossmont and San Diego Mesa colleges have earned her high ratings in online student critiques, which nearly all mention activities and exercises that are a part of many of Ronke’s classes.

 “Her class is never boring, she hilarious and she’s just a lot of fun,” one student commented. “Lots of activities and interaction. Sie ist wunderbar!”

Ronke has developed strong connections with her students through activities beyond the classroom that include cultural celebrations, German Theater Festivals she’s organized for many years, and even the construction of a replica of the Berlin Wall.

At her intermediate German class at Grossmont, students set up clusters of desks and conversed in German over the social and political topics of the day, such as the legalization of marijuana and Donald Trump’s impact on the U.S. presidency. The clusters of desks represented a German Stammtisch, regular group chats typically held in bars and restaurants in Germany, Ronke explained.

Ronke, who has a doctorate in German as a foreign language from Technical University of Berlin, established a four-week German immersion and scholarship program in her native country for Grossmont College students. Through the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation Berlin, four students received scholarships in 2016 and 2017. Ronke is also currently serving as the coordinator of the German and Russian Language Program at Grossmont.

“I believe, in a time of so much global political uncertainty, it is more important than ever for students to study foreign languages and different cultures,” Ronke said. “It better equips them with the knowledge of what political, cultural and religious diversity there is in the world and it leads them to a path of acceptance and mutual respect.”

She is the recipient of a national award from the Goethe Institute and the American Association of Teachers of German, Inc. for outstanding achievement in furthering the study of German in the United States. This past spring, she received a Grossmont College Teaching Excellence Award. Other recognitions include a certificate of excellence in 2011 from the German Consulate General in San Diego, a nomination for a distinguished professor award from California State University, San Marcos, where she taught from 1997 to 2002, and a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

German instructor Johannes Bruestle, one of a trio who nominated Ronke for the Distinguished Faculty Award, described his colleague as “spirited, intelligent and humorous – a team player who is resourceful and has invested time and effort into students’ success.”

Ronke said her years at Grossmont College have been rewarding and inspirational.
“I am very grateful to have had the chance over the last 15 years to interact with outstanding faculty, staff and students, and to teach German at our vibrant World Languages Department and at the dedicated and supportive Arts, Literature and Communication Division here at Grossmont.”

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