Grossmont College English Instructor Daniela Sow received the President’s Leadership Award, one of the highest honors recognizing distinguished service to the college. At Cuyamaca College, Steve Weinert, a psychology instructor who founded a fledgling research lab at the Rancho San Diego campus, received the 2020 Award for Teaching Excellence. Rachel Farris, whose students speak fondly of her nurturing approach to teaching accounting, was the part-time faculty recipient of the same award.
The three faculty members were lauded at their colleges’ convocations marking the start of spring semester.
“We take pride in the excellence of our instructors and their tireless dedication to our students,” said Lynn Neault, chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District. “This semester’s winning faculty reflect two important components of excellence – a love of teaching and the desire to make a difference in the lives of students.”
As an American of Filipina-Romanian descent, Daniela Sow is invariably asked, “What are you?” She can relate to multi-ethnic students’ wanting to assimilate, but also seeking to acknowledge their heritage.
“They want to feel a sense of belonging and pride in their multi-ethnic identities, so I have done a lot of work over the years to bring mixed race authors and filmmakers to the college,” Sow said.
With a small planning committee of staff, faculty and students, she developed Grossmont College’s first Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month events in May. She also helped bring speakers to the college to bring awareness to ethnicity and multiculturalism.
“These efforts reflect my belief that representation matters – visibility of any ethnic group matters,” said Sow, a New York City native who lived as a child in the Philippines.
As co-coordinator of the English department’s Creative Writing program, Sow also oversees the Fall Reading Series and the Spring Literary Arts Festival, two traditions at Grossmont College dating back to the late 1990s.
A full-time English instructor at Grossmont College since 2016 and an adjunct faculty member for four years prior, Sow’s unflagging energy and contributions to the college were praised by President Nabil Abu-Ghazaleh as he presented her the President’s Leadership Award.
“Through all of her work, she has proven herself a leader in engaging students and the community inside and outside of the classroom,” he said.
The UC Santa Barbara alum earned her bachelor’s degree in literature and her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from San Diego State University.
“Being a teacher, serving our community college students, is my ultimate joy,” she said.
The student comments that helped Cuyamaca College psychology instructor Steve Weinert win the Teaching Excellence Award say it all:
“He is an amazing professor who really wants you to learn. He will take the time to help you understand the material and works to make it relatable to you. Great teacher, and hands down one of the best classes I have ever taken.”
Another student writes: “He is one of my favorite professors at Cuyamaca. He genuinely keeps me engaged in class, and never fails to make whatever being taught interesting.”
From the 400 nominations from students, the Academic Senate review committee narrowed the field down to the top 15 and after visiting classrooms, selected one winner each among full-time faculty and adjunct instructors.
“My philosophy of education is very simple,” said Weinert, who began teaching as a part-time instructor at the college in 1994 and became full-time in 2001. “Always be kind. Learning is a reward, not a punishment. Having the ability to learn something is a joy, and having resources around that you need can make learning anything possible.”
Weinert received both this bachelor’s and master’s in psychology from San Diego State University, then earned a high school teaching credential from Chapman University. The Vermont native taught freshman science, psychology and biology and was also the head track coach at Ramona High School for three years prior to becoming a full-time instructor at Cuyamaca College.
Active over the years in numerous college committees, Weinert’s other contributions to the campus include his founding of a research lab where he enlists students to help them learn how to collect and analyze data.
Weinert is planning future projects such as a distracted driving experiment in which an Xbox is used to simulate realistic driving situations and students engage in multitasking while behind the wheel. So far, the research lab has helped a trio of students transfer to UC San Diego and SDSU, where they are continuing their lab work.
“I love learning new things about my students and their backgrounds,” he said. “Each semester I get to meet a new batch of personalities and perspectives. It is just amazing.”
As a cost accountant for GroundMetrics, a San Diego company specializing in electromagnetic sensor system technologies, Rachel Farris is able to bring real-world experience to the accounting classes she teaches at Cuyamaca College.
It is a huge plus for students, judging from the student nominations submitted on her behalf for the Teaching Excellence Award for adjunct faculty.
“Rachel Farris is a superb instructor who offers real-world insight into the subject of financial accounting that helps reinforce ideas taught in class,” one student wrote. “Her experience as an accountant has helped bring life to the content we learn in class.”
Students also have high praise for her ability to engage the class and keep what could easily be mind-numbing material interesting.
“As dry as the subject of accounting can be, Professor Farris made it fun for the class,” reads a student review. “This professor engages the class, which is hard to do in class about numbers. Her passion for teaching is evident when you observe how her students are totally engaged in her class.”
An adjunct instructor at Cuyamaca College from 2005-2009 and again from 2012 to the present, Farris said the teaching award is especially meaningful because it is a recognition from students.
Born and raised in rural Illinois, Farris earned her bachelor’s in finance/business administration from Illinois State University, her Master of Human Relations from the University of Oklahoma and her MBA in management accounting from National University. She never considered a teaching career until she took a job as a tutor at Concordia University in Wisconsin and subsequently was offered a teaching position.
“It opened a whole new world for me, one I found I enjoyed greatly,” Farris said. “I’m honored that my students speak highly of me – that really means a lot to me.”