Lone Star College-CyFair’s Faculty Excellence winners said the award is thrilling, humbling, an honor and a validation of what they do. But when all is said and done, they just love teaching, effecting change, inspiring creativity, providing value to learning and doing their part to help students succeed.
Jonathan Durm, professor of psychology, Claire Phillips, professor of business, Esther Robinson, associate professor of history and Suzanne Shield-Polk, professor of art, are this year’s award recipients.
“Each of these faculty members demonstrates truly exemplary performance both in and out of the classroom,” said LSC-CyFair Interim President Dr. Bob Williams. “I commend them for their hard and dedicated work and their commitment to positive learning outcomes for all their students.”
Shield-Polk, LSC-CyFair founding faculty and arts department chair, said art has always been a part of her life, from elementary school classes to her major in college, from freelance work to consulting in public schools and ultimately teaching at LSC-CyFair.
“Art was always a wonderful escape,” she said. “We in the art field, particularly ceramics, speak of clay and art as the best therapy.”
She teaches that the art process, particularly in clay, includes failure and experimentation, but the personally-generated project is satisfying, expressive and original. Teaching itself also informs what Shield-Polk does in ceramics, pottery and painting. The inquiring minds of students as well as their differences, such as experience, upper body strength, limited dexterity, left-handedness or even an injury, inspire her to modify her teaching methods as needed.
“It’s about being flexible and thinking about students wholistically,” she said. “The idea is to impart to them what it’s like to be an artist, what art making practices are like and what the creative process is.”
Robinson, LSC-CyFair lead history faculty and Phi Theta Kappa advisor, has fulfilled her childhood dream of teaching for three decades, primarily at Langham Creek High School but with the past three years in higher education.
She transitioned to higher education with connections to the college as a Dual Credit instructor, a reader for AP tests and adjunct faculty. Now full-time at LSC-CyFair, she maintains connections with Cy-Fair Independent School District volunteering for Bus Buddies and outreach efforts. She continues community service in her role as Beta Lambda Mu advisor. But her passion is history.
Robinson tries to connect history with current events and to provide new perspectives through class debates and critical thinking projects that help her students see history from different points of view.
“My great love is being in the classroom teaching,” she said. “I am constantly looking for ways to connect with students. My goal is make students feel comfortable enough to participate and not be embarrassed. My hope is they find a connection that helps them realize the value in learning about their history.”
Phillips, LSC-CyFair founding faculty and business department chair, brings 20 years of real world experience in industry to her 12 years of teaching business classes, mainly online.
“I have kind of been on a personal mission to share what I’ve learned with students,” she said. “Many of us in the business area could make more money working in industry, but I want to give back to the community and to students. I want to help grow the next generation.”
Phillips said she never just teaches. She’s a facilitator, mentor and has even been director of the Faculty Staff Excellence Center. She chooses to be involved to effect change, serving on task forces at the college and system level, putting community and college contacts together, helping students with intern placements, launching new classes and developing curriculum (a new entrepreneurship program is in progress.)
“We’re here with a purpose,” she said. “It’s not a four-day-a-week job, it’s a permanent lifestyle.”
Durm, LSC-CyFair founding faculty and psychology department chair, thought being a clinician would be his career. However he found that he was happiest when teaching and can’t imagine not being in the classroom, particularly when he sees the light bulb go off for a student because of something he’s said or done in class.
“It’s those moments that you know you’ve changed a life,” he said. “This is the one job that when I wake up in the morning I can’t wait to get here, I can’t wait to see what will happen in class, teaching others is so exciting.”
Durm uses Socratic questions, video clips, group activities that uses peer language, role playing and even an occasionally thrown chair demonstration. He’s also added a community service element for a Service Learning course and has teamed up with a history instructor for a Learning Community course, which combines two disciplines.
“Part of the task as teachers is to make the subject relevant to students. If you don’t, they aren’t going to be interested,” he said. “So I try to engage students on as many levels as possible.”
For each of these faculty members, engaging students is key to their success and making a life-changing impact on students is not so uncommon and certainly worth the effort.