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LSC-CyFair Recognizes Four Faculty Excellence Award Winners Passionate About Student Success

Faculty Excellence 2013 winners
Congratulations to Lone Star College-CyFair’s Faculty Excellence Award winners Milton Kandeh, clockwise from top left, Jason Moulenbelt, Paula Khalaf and Carolina Ruiz.
Creating a safe learning environment that encourages expression and participation with respect is a common goal among this year’s Faculty Excellence Award winners at Lone Star College-CyFair.

The four winners are Milton Kandeh, who teaches biology; Paula Khalaf, who teaches Transitional Studies English; Jason Moulenbelt, who teaches philosophy and religion and Carolina Ruiz, who teaches English.

Kandeh, who came to Houston from West Africa in 1992 and began teaching at LSC-CyFair in 2003, said he strives to find creative and interactive ways to teach that fits the respective learning styles of his students. He believes a teacher models to others how to learn, think and use knowledge as a problem-solving tool.

 “I share my own experience, often with international students, hoping it may be inspirational and motivational for them to continue pursuing an education,” he said.  “My ultimate goal when I teach is to instill a ‘can do, if-you-keep-trying’ attitude in my students.”  

In addition, Kandeh challenges his students to be critical thinkers, giving them the opportunity to formulate their own ideas and even disagree with him. At the end of the day, he wants to be somebody who helped his students in their respective careers and influenced them to become functional in society. 

Khalaf, who was an adjunct at LSC-North Harris before becoming full-time faculty in 2007 at LSC-CyFair, said she tries to prepare her students for the future. She tells her students they will need recommendation letters for scholarships, graduate programs and jobs so they need to be building their academic reputation now, for example turning in work they are proud of and coming to class prepared. In addition, she lets them know she values and will not waste their time and will treat them fairly and with respect.

“The challenge in the classroom is how can I say it better, how can I say it different, how can I make sure everybody connects with the information better, how can I make sure they succeed, how can I teach English, but work in other skills they need to be successful in life?” said Khalaf. “Establishing relevance, making connections to students’ lives and creating learning experiences using a variety of strategies and styles that meet the needs of a variety of learners are essential.”

She thinks of teaching as creating opportunities for success both in her classroom, which is her favorite place, and beyond, so her planning begins with the end goal in mind of what she wants students to be able to do.

Moulenbelt, an LSC-CyFair founding faculty member, said he’s never been very interested in the “what?” questions, always in the “why?” questions. He also feels critical thinking involves, and perhaps even starts with, inner reflection and the development of personal philosophies.

“I feel the need to take steps to ensure a safe and open space for philosophical discussion and growth to take place … where the student can express their own truth at that time, be heard, and information is kept as confidential as possible,” said Moulenbelt.

When teaching a particularly challenging idea or philosophy, he said his best teaching tool is his vulnerability to share, not “over share” but to model his own form of critical thinking and remain as transparent within his discipline as is appropriate.

“I feel philosophy is a subject that is focused on making students better people and asking them how they are going to use the knowledge they acquired in other classes,” he said.

Ruiz, who started at LSC-CyFair in 2007 as adjunct faculty before becoming full-time faculty in 2010, teaches her students the importance of learning to communicate properly and professionally (orally and in written or electronic formats) as well as skills of critical thinking and analysis that translates into the real world.

With an extremely interactive teaching style and multicultural philosophy of teaching, she said she creates a student-centered learning environment that nurtures knowledge and mutual respect to diverse populations, not just culturally or ethnicity-based, but age and background as well. 

“I work to create a safe learning environment and sense of community inside my classroom. I think that helps foster a wanting to learn type of environment,” she said. “It’s early on that we are all connected, that students feel they can speak up … and with selective readings and class discussion, I foster an environment that is liberated, open and in tune with the world around us.”

All four faculty winners will be recognized at the annual National Institute for Staff & Organizational Development conference and the college’s spring awards event. For information on LSC-CyFair, go to LoneStar.edu/cyfair.