The courses they teach are diverse, but this year's four Academic Excellence Award winners from Lone Star College-Tomball College share some very basic philosophies as educators, reach their goals in both education and life, and a love for their work as educators.
This year's Faculty Excellence Award winners include economics professor Joseph Cahill, English professor Van Piercy, medical office instructor Jane Simons, and mathematics professor Patty Zachary.
Cahill, who grew up in Ohio, received his undergraduate degree from Wittenberg University and spent a semester in a graduate program at Tulane University before completing his master's degree in economics at the University of Ann Arbor in Michigan.
He began teaching at what was then Tomball College in 1991 as an adjunct instructor after a 10-year career in the real estate banking and development industry. He became a full-time professor in 2001 and currently serves as the chairman of the business department in addition to his teaching.
Piercy, a native of Plainfield, Indiana, came to Texas to teach at the college in 2002 after teaching at a small college in Indiana. He holds bachelors and master's degrees in English from the University of California - Berkley. He attended Illinois University Bloomington for his doctorate. The community college setting is a familiar one to this English professor as he spent his first two years of college at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Simons, who is originally from Lockport, Louisiana, received her associate's degree from Nichols State and her bachelor's degree from the University of Phoenix.
Zachary is a native Texan born in Austin who grew up in Arkansas where she began her college career. She transferred to the University of Texas - Arlington where she received her bachelor's degree in mathematics and later received her master's degree in mathematics from Sam Houston State University.
Zachary first began her teaching career at the junior high school level, but went into the travel industry. She returned to teaching as a part-time instructor at Tomball in 1993 while earning her master's degree. After completing her master's degree Zachary became a full-time professor at the college.
These four award-winning instructors teach diverse courses, but share many commonalities in their approach to working with their students. The key is liking what you do, liking your students and getting to know them, said Zachary.
Cahill echoed those sentiments.
"You have to respect your s and care about the students," he said.
Cahill also said he believes the most important thing a college instructor can do is to stimulate a student's interest in learning and help them see the value of education from both a personal and financial standpoint.
"The best instructors I had stimulated my interest in learning in general," he said.
Piercy and Simons stressed the importance of how an instructor presents material to students in terms of creativity, innovation and helping them retain the information presented in class.
As a medical office program instructor, the results of her efforts are usually visible a little sooner than that of many other instructors, said Simons. That underscores the importance of working hard to help students learn and retain the necessary information, she added.
"I think the main thing is to connect with the students," said Simons. "I've been able to put myself in their situation. I try to think how the student would think and connect with them."
Piercy, who teaches a variety of English courses from the basic level courses to honors courses, said ongoing professional development, innovation in the classroom and working to develop new courses all play a role in keeping both himself and his students fired up in the classroom in this key academic area.
"It's interesting to try new things and keep things moving forward," he added.
Another key factor to their success, said the four, is the college itself, and the environment and atmosphere fostered there for instructors, students and employees.
There is a great deal of support for innovation and trying new things in the classroom, said Piercy.
"I think if that wasn't there, it would take a lot of the fun out of it," he added.
Cahill, who taught part time at several other junior colleges and universities before coming to Tomball full time, said he enjoys teaching at the community college level because it is more personal. And, Tomball is even more so, feeling more like a family than a place of employment, he added.
Zachary agreed, calling the college a warm and friendly place with a great deal of respect for its instructors.
This quartet of instructors all said they are deeply honored and quite surprised in receiving this award. The honorees may be nominated by students or their teaching peers. It is great feeling to be acknowledged by one's peers and students and it is an indication of working in the right direction, they said.
"I feel humbled by it," said Simons. "But, I guess it means I'm working in the right direction and that people appreciate what you do. Just the fact that I was nominated was a good feeling itself."
Lone Star College System consists of five colleges, including Cy-Fair, Kingwood, Montgomery, North Harris, and Tomball, six centers and Lone Star College-University Center. With 49,250 students, it is the largest college system in the Houston area, and third largest community college district in Texas.