Reaching a student who might need that extra bit of encouragement or academic push and seeing that person achieve his or her goals in the classroom are factors that drive each of this year's Faculty Excellence Award winners from Lone Star College-Tomball.
This year's recipients -- Thomas Rogers, Katherine Sanchez, Melinda Coleman and David Birch -- teach courses in the primary core academic areas. These core courses sometimes present obstacles to students, especially the many non-traditional students who are making their way into the classrooms of today's community colleges.
For Rogers, who holds degrees from Texas Christian University in business and a master's degree and teaching certificate from England, it is a love of history and a love of teaching that makes working at the community college level so worthwhile. He is 20 year teaching veteran including seven years as an adjunct instructor at LSC-Tomball and 10 years as a full time professor of history at LSC-Tomball.
Developing a student's interest in history can be a challenge, but Rogers said he tries to make the subject something both interesting and intriguing. Rogers said he is something of a social historian which allows him to help students better understand how the past and present are interconnected through the study of history.
He also tries to generate interest in a more in-depth history study that goes beyond the traditional American history class. Rogers has developed a curriculum for a special American history class, the American West, that is offered approximately every third semester.
"There is a joy when you see the light come on," he said of teaching at the community college. "At the university level, publish or perish is still very much alive. For the people that want to do that, it's fine. But, our main mission at the community college level is to teach. They want us to teach, and teach some more and that is what I like.
Sanchez, who began her own educational career at a junior college in Corpus Christi, has a special affinity for the community college student. She holds degrees in English from Corpus Christi State University (now Texas A&M Corpus Christi) and Texas A&M (College Station.) and is also working on her doctorate at the College Station campus.
She began her teaching career as an adjunct instructor at LSC-Tomball in 1996 and spent several years teaching dual credit English at Waller High School while continuing as an adjunct at LSC-Tomball. Sanchez joined the LSC-Tomball English faculty full-time in 1999. She also currently serves as department chair in addition to her classroom and online teaching duties.
Her personal experience as a community college student played an important role in Sanchez' decision to teach at the community college level.
"In most ways, I would have been considered an at-risk student," said Sanchez of her own educational experience. "I was raised by a single mother. I went to school on a Pell Grant. I was a first generation college student and I'm Mexican-American. However, I never considered any of these as barriers. After reaching my original goal of a graduate degree in English, I just knew I needed to reach back to that student I was.
"My proudest moments are when I see the students who think they can't succeed, push through their fears and really become comfortable writers and readers," she added.
Coleman, who currently teaches developmental math classes along with algebra and math for elementary school teachers, has been an educator for 21 years beginning at the junior high school level. Her teaching career also includes the high school level and stints as adjunct instructors at LSC-North Harris and LSC-Montgomery before joining the LSC-Tomball faculty full-time eight years ago. She holds both bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics from Sam Houston State University.
This mathematics professor found she enjoyed working with students at the community college level because they are often very committed to their education and truly want to learn despite any obstacles that may stand in their way.
Patience, she said, is an important factor, in working with the community college student, especially those in the development math classes.
Coleman, too, sees her share of non-traditional students. Some students may be older and returning to school after many years away from formal schooling, while others may be those who were told they were not college material and did not receive the math background necessary to succeed at the college level.
"In any case, these students really want to succeed," she said. "They often need to be retrained in mathematics, but more importantly, need to have their confidence built. I enjoy seeing the success on these students' faces, often for the first time in their math career."
Birch, who holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Alabama and a master's degree from the University of Maryland, is a 23-year veteran educator with six years of that time at LSC-Tomball.
In his Introduction to American Government and Politics classes he illuminates the ideals of citizenship and participation in the political process as well as helping students understand how the political process of this nation works and why it is of critical importance to the individual.
By teaching in the community college setting, Birch said he is able to engage those ideas more directly and critically with his students than would possible in an introductory political science class of 300 students.
"I think to be effective, you have to love what you do and show a vital interest in the subject matter," he said. "Instructors set the tone for the learning environment."
While Birch holds no expectation that each of his students will suddenly become a political science major, he promises that those students will never see a lack of enthusiasm on his part for the subject of government and politics in his classroom.
Birch and his fellow Faculty Excellence Award recipients will be recognized at the National Institute of Staff and Organizational Development conference in May.
Lone Star College System consists of five colleges, including CyFair, Kingwood, Montgomery, North Harris, and Tomball, six centers and Lone Star College-University Center. With 49,250 students, LCSC is the third largest community college district in Texas. To learn more, visit LoneStar.edu.