Four honored as Faculty Excellence winners

Four outstanding Lone Star College–CyFair faculty members - Paul Cooke, Rob Coyle, Idolina Hernandez and Carolyn Ho – are being honored as Faculty Excellence Award winners for the impact they have on their students and the college.

These four associate professors teach different disciplines - including political science (Cooke), history (Coyle), sociology (Hernandez), and English as a Second Language (Ho) – and they all took different paths to their careers in education. However, there are also many similarities. All started teaching as adjunct faculty and have taken on leadership roles on committees, for student organizations and in respective departments. In addition, they participate in various campus activities, such as panelists on the Great Decisions discussion series, volunteers in the Community Garden, and presenters in the community film series.

With a similar goal of engaging their students to help them succeed in academics and life, these Faculty Excellence Award winners bring their different interests, hobbies and experiences into their classrooms.

Cooke has worked overseas in Italy, Kuwait, Egypt, and Singapore as a Senior Manager for an international management consulting company and in Japan, Mexico, Germany, the Netherlands and Scotland as Manager of International Operations for a high technology manufacturing company. He’s also worked in Washington both at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and for the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Students in his International Business, International Comparative Management, American History II or any of his political science classes have all gained some insight through his experiences and travels. Students also learn that the power of analytical thought will carry them a long way as Cooke typically leads them through structured critical thinking exercises which he bases on practical examples and case studies.

“I think of my class as a critical thinking class where the content is government and political science. And I try to challenge students to think not just about the analytics, but the moral aspects of choices we make,” he said. “In every class I teach, every day I walk in the classroom, I try to make sure students are developing a skill that will last beyond that class, beyond that semester, and even beyond college.”

Coyle said he had once entertained thoughts of becoming an architect or minister. However, with professors encouraging graduate study and history being the only subject to hold his attention, teaching became a long-term interest. While he found the master’s program a little intimidating, it gave him the opportunity to be a teaching assistant and go into the classroom from the beginning. 

“I knew immediately there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do, this was the career for me and I wanted to teach at the college level,” he said.

Coyle admits U.S. History is hard to keep fresh, but he never teaches the course the same way twice. This year, he offers a study abroad Western Civilization course (team taught with an English course) that includes a 10-day trip to Europe. Coyle also creates an environment where students feel like individuals, their work is valued and they have the attention of the instructor.

“The student who is engaged will believe they can do the work and will perform,” said Coyle, who chose not to be a behind-the-podium lecturer, but more of a discussion leader. “I took the podium out of the teaching space and developed a more interactive lecture style allowing student responses to craft the information with my guidance.”

Critical thinking exercises and the community outreach aspects of Service Learning are all part of Hernandez’s sociology classes. While she doesn’t expect students to remember every concept and theory after they leave her class, she offers the opportunity for students to apply them in the real world, particularly those relevant to the students.

“What I love about sociology, is that it’s not only about theories and ideas, but it’s also about creating social change,” she said. “Service Learning is such a good fit with sociology, because ultimately it’s not just about looking at social problems but also figuring ways that you can directly impact them.”

Hernandez said she tries to be flexible in how she approaches teaching, to incorporate student experiences into lessons and to take advantage of campus resources to help students achieve academic success. Having a baby in the fall (he’s now six-months) has also helped put things in perspective for her with her students and in presenting class material.

As an ESL instructor and a CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) trainer, Ho can draw on her own experience to help students handle cultural issues in the classroom. She was born in Taiwan with dreams of becoming a singer. When she came to the United States in 1989 to study literature, she wanted to become a writer. After a master’s in comparative literature, she switched to public policy and earned a second master’s. When she married, she volunteered with GED and ESL students, which then led to her teaching career.

 “When I plan a lesson, the central idea is - what can I do to let the student show me what they can do to practice English? I don’t lecture, except for the purpose of clarification. I am shown what they can do by completing a task from as simple as fill in the blank to as complicated as writing an essay or making a presentation explaining a process,” she said. “I believe that what I do is cultivate independent learners in English. My students were uprooted …. My job is through language training to help them regain a sense of independence.”

Cooke, Coyle, Hernandez and Ho all said they are honored to have been chosen as Faculty Excellence Award winners. Perhaps Hernandez sums it up best.

“One of the great things about working here is you get an opportunity to make a difference, you have wonderful people to work with at all levels and we’re lucky to be able to do what we love and get paid for it.”