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Four Taking Different Paths to Career of Helping Students Succeed Beyond the Classroom Honored as Faculty Excellence Award Winners

Lone Star College-CyFair’s Faculty Excellence Award winners – Dr. Warner Bair, Dr. Heidi Jo Green, Sharon Stefan and Angelica Sutton – took different paths to their education career, but are all passionate about helping students succeed beyond the classroom.

Always fascinated with cell biology, Bair initially wanted to become a medical doctor. In college, he volunteered at The University of Arizona Cancer Center, where an interest in the clinical side of oncology was sparked.

Having applied for medical school three times to no avail, Bair was accepted to a cancer biology graduate program, during which he researched new therapies for the treatment of different cancers. His career path changed again when he fell in love with teaching during his first semester as a community college adjunct instructor. Four years later, in the Spring of 2010, he began full-time at LSC-CyFair.

“I relate my story to my students because you don’t always know where you’ll go, but education will take you there and you’ll get where you need to be,” he said.  “And if I can help my students develop lifelong learning skills they can use to accomplish their education goals and enrich their lives in the future, then I have accomplished my goals as an educator.”

Bair said he uses real world medical examples to teach fundamental and complex biology concepts to a diverse student population with different learning styles. In his journey from medicine to research to education, Bair said the common thread is his desire to help others.

“For me, being a professor is not just a profession, but a way of life,” said Bair, who also received the prestigious John and Suanne Rouche Excellence Award. “Getting to know my students, helping them overcome their educational obstacles, and teaching them in an engaging manner is a passion of mine.”

With interest in adventures and quests of the unknown, Green originally planned in high school to become a librarian or archaeologist. As the first in a military family to go to college, her path shifted toward criminal justice and ultimately human services. Very passionate about human services, Green worked as a social worker until she was offered a position teaching criminal justice at Wayne State College in Nebraska.

“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” she said. “I did not know anything about teaching at the time, but when I walked into the classroom 15 years ago, I fell in love with teaching and never turned back.”

Life circumstances brought Green to Houston, where she began full-time at LSC-CyFair in Fall 2006. She believes that education provides the necessary skills and tools to build a prosperous and rewarding life. With compassion and modeling an enthusiastic approach to learning, she creates a classroom environment that allows for exploration.

“In my particular field, political science, government does not ‘come alive’ for students unless they are able to realize the implications that a democracy has on their daily lives,” she said.

Green engages her students in small group activities, such as creating their own government or Texas prison system, as well as in open and thoughtful discussions on her past social work cases. However, learning is a two-way street. Learning from her students to remain flexible, open to change and to communicate leads to student success, which they may define differently.

“Students need to know they matter in order to succeed and this is when having compassion works best,” she said. “I teach from the heart and teach by example.”

Stefan, a first generation college student from an immigrant family, began teaching math at LSC-CyFair in Fall 2010 just out of grad school in Arizona.

“I view math as a language to express how the human mind wants to analyze the surrounding world,” said Stefan, who admits she wasn’t the best math student, but learned patient problem solving, critical thinking and to find meaning beyond symbols – skills that apply in life, too. “Understanding, rather than memorizing, has become a driving force in my teaching. Once students realize there are many different ways to approach to math and solutions aren’t a one size fits all, they often gain more confidence.”

Creating an environment where students are allowed to ask, wonder, conjecture and make mistakes is part of Stefan’s conversational style of teaching. In addition, listening to her students provides insight into their thought process, which is a powerful tool in helping her teach more creatively in the classroom.

Therefore, Stefan brings math to life and teaches concepts with examples of how the spread of Zika virus can be described with function relationships, the role of social media in spreading information, applications in medical physics for MRIs, or family relationships in understanding the concept of a function.

She also encourages participation in Service Learning with hopes that students see they can have a positive impact on the world around them.

 “I’m doing something significant in life,” she said. “I’m helping my students. I’m not teaching for glory, but to make sure they walk out a little better than when they walked in.”

Sutton’s minor degree in business along with her summer job at Joske’s led to a corporate management career as a buyer until Dillard’s took over the company. With no interest to move out of Houston, she became a stay-at-home mom for 10 years.

Psychology had always been her passion, so she returned to school for a master’s and in 2001 was hired as a counselor at LSC-Montgomery in Conroe. Then in Spring 2003, Sutton joined LSC-Fairbanks Center as a counselor serving those with disabilities and when the Barker Cypress campus opened, she became a founding faculty member teaching EDUC 1300 within her counseling position.

“I strongly believe active learning engages a student in gaining specific subject knowledge in the classroom. My position as counselor enables me to see both sides of the teaching process - what occurs in and then out of the classroom. With a broader view, I know students must also gain knowledge that can be applied in life,” she said.

Sutton said teaching should also be about changing a student’s mindset, as well as response to failure, which is an acceptable experience of life, so they have an expectation for success that carries into all areas of life.

“We must remind students to reflect and identify barriers that might impede their success. And we must applaud their efforts, strong sense of self and resiliency,” she said. “I stress the importance of teaching skills that will transcend the classroom, and in my case the office.”

These four faculty members were among those employees recognized for their outstanding service in college-wide and system-wide employee events. For information on LSC-CyFair and registration, which begins under way for May mini-mester and summer, go to LoneStar.edu/cyfair.