Despite many things that were put on hold due to the ongoing pandemic, honoring the excellent work and dedication to student success on the part of our faculty and staff was not one of them. Arguably, this year more than ever students needed additional support in the classroom and by the campus community to persevere and succeed.
Holding true to TMCC’s long legacy, our faculty and staff did exactly that. “That’s the main thing that we do here,” said Felipe Gutierrez De Alba, Program Coordinator for the Veterans Resource Center and recipient of the Model Dairy TMCC Faculty Excellence in Service Award. “We make sure that students know they have resources on campus and that they have resources in the community.”
Excellence in Teaching: Meeting Students Where They Are
Marynia Giren-Navarro is no stranger to teaching in an online environment. Well before COVID-19, she worked to make students comfortable in virtual spaces by infusing them with what she calls “a human element.” She began teaching for TMCC in 2010 as a part-time faculty; today she is a full-time tenured professor in the Social Sciences Department where she teaches sociology, psychology and anthropology classes. She is this year’s recipient of the TMCC Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award, which recognizes Navarro’s ability to integrate best practices in teaching, whether in-person or online.
“Based on my own experience and the research that has been done on the subject, I developed techniques to create social presence and engagement in my online classes,” she said. This includes creating video lectures that put a face and voice to the course material as well as maintaining open and ongoing communication channels with students. “All of this shows students that I am present and attentive, but most importantly, that I am a human being just like they are.”
With the shift to online learning last year, Navarro has faced additional challenges. “Students who expect to take classes in person expect a certain amount of structure,” she said. A part of this structure comes from expectations of being seen, and in Navarro’s classes, students are required to turn their cameras on for Zoom sessions. “After all, I expect my students to participate and encourage them to interact together,” she said. “It changed the whole dynamic...and it improved my classes dramatically.”
This aligns with Navarro’s teaching philosophy, which is guided by three foundational principles: engagement, staying human and development. “You have to be passionate about what you’re teaching, but also about teaching itself,” she said. “That creates a bridge between the expertise and love of the connection with students. So I put a huge emphasis on not just the transmission of knowledge, but also how I can connect to students and their lives.”
To maintain that connection to students, Navarro polls students to discover their availability and creates office-hour Zoom sessions in which they can meet with her to answer questions they may have about the course material. She also works to show students that the questions posed by social sciences like sociology and psychology are relevant to their lives.
“Why were we hoarding toilet paper? How do human relations change because we are wearing masks? How do we understand cultural lag, meaning the technology-or material culture- is advanced, but the non-material or symbolic culture is struggling to catch up? Sociology gives you the answers we are in desperate need of right now,” she said.
Navarro also typically schedules field trips to engage students in “hands-on” and relevant ways. These field trips have included visits to a local Sikh Temple and the short film festivals hosted at UNR. “An objective for the visit to the local Sikh Temple is to understand the Sikh minority better and the film festivals support another critical objective of my classes through the application of theoretical concepts to analyze social settings in the movies,” she said.
Although field trips were not possible this year due to the ongoing pandemic, Navarro used her many years of online teaching experience to engage students in comparable tasks. “I offered extra credit for using a song, video or even an internet meme to explain and illustrate a sociological concept. I cooperate with professors and other experts by scheduling guest appearances in my Zoom classes or building assignments around guest lectures.” She also worked with students’ availability directly to schedule office hours at times that worked for them.
“I show my students that I am engaged and dedicated to their success,” she said.
Excellence in Service: Supporting TMCC Students and Staff
Gutierrez knows firsthand the challenges students face. After graduating from high school in 2006, he attended TMCC as a part-time student while also working 40-hours a week in "a warehouse job," something he didn’t really enjoy very much. At an on-campus career fair, he approached a table of recruiters from the Marine Corps. “I was having a bad day, and I asked them ‘where do I sign?’” he remembered. “I signed that day, and asked them if I could finish that semester before I began my term of service.”
Six years of service followed that would take Gutierrez to other countries, including a deployment to Iraq. He eventually reached the rank of Sergeant. However, when Gutierrez decided to return to TMCC in 2012, the transition was more difficult than he thought it would be. “I really struggled in my transition coming back from the service. I struggled to get a job. Going from a sergeant in the Marine Corps, which is like low management, I oversaw million dollars worth of equipment and repair parts and I was 22 years old... so coming home and suddenly you’re telling me: ‘hey, I can only pay you $12–14 an hour’ really hurt,” he said.
There was also no Veterans Resource Center (VRC) or support services to help him navigate what can be a complicated process of utilizing the GI Bill and other supports available to veteran students. Having experienced that struggle firsthand, Gutierrez decided to get involved. He became one of the first members of the Truckee Meadows Veterans Club (TMVC), and was later named President. He also completed a work-study at TMCC’s VRC in 2013 before transferring to UNR to complete his bachelor’s degree only to return as the VRC’s Pre-Admissions Associate, a position he held until 2018 when he was named VRC Program Coordinator.
“I’ve seen the whole aspect from work-study to being Program Coordinator. That’s really helped me to see what I need to do in order to be able to give students the resources they need. It’s challenging...but I always refer back to those times when I was a student worker, that was the bedrock. That’s when I found service organizations and other resources that are available and that can provide additional support,” he said. “But, I can really understand what they are going through, and that helps.”
As Program Coordinator for the VRC, Gutierrez connects students with the resources they need to support them. In addition to reminding veteran students of the importance in getting involved in student clubs, he also points out the various ways that they can find assistance, which can include academic supports through Academic Advising or the Disability Resource Center, as well as other supports such as the Counseling Center or the VITAL Program, which offers an on-campus social worker from Veteran’s Affairs 2-3 times per week.
“My door is always open to students, as well as to faculty,” said Gutierrez, explaining that he is also the Faculty Veteran’s Mentor for the state of Nevada. “If anyone has questions relating to veteran’s benefits, I am their contact. I’m not just here for students—but I’m here for faculty and staff, too.”
Creative Activities: Supporting Students at the Source
As this past year has demonstrated, now more than ever attending to one’s mental health is important to one’s overall health. This is especially true for college students. This year’s recipient of the 2021 Nevada Regents’ Creative Activities Award, TMCC Counselor Erin Frock, has utilized innovative techniques to help TMCC students to do exactly that. Frock, who was nominated for her efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic to de-stigmatize student mental health through technology and social media, helped to bring discussions about mental health into the light.
Nevada Regent Laura Perkins said of Frock’s efforts: “She combined her training as a counselor with her inquisitive nature to incorporate art and other activities to connect the TMCC community…[who]may have been feeling isolated and stressed while navigating the virtual learning [and working] environment.”
Frock developed several outreach programs to support students and staff, which included the Mindful Minute series, Bring your Own Coffee Hour, Take Five and Wellness Wednesdays, to name a few examples. Many times, these sessions were delivered online, using social media tools to encourage student participation.
“In these stressful times as depression, substance abuse and other mental health concerns continue to grow, Frock’s work on resources and innovative outlets for students and staff goes above and beyond,” said Regent Perkins.
Awarding Excellence Among TMCC Faculty and Staff
Whether it’s in the classroom, at a resource center or at an event, TMCC faculty and staff continue to support their students using innovative practices that meet students where they are. In addition to the above awards, several TMCC faculty and staff were recognized for their excellence.
Classified Employee of the Year
Classified Employees of the Month 2020-2021
PTK Part-Time Teacher of the Year
Joseph Domitrovich, Humanities
PTK Full-Time Teacher of the Year
Rebecca Porter, Mathematics
Newly Tenured Faculty
Dr. Elena Atanasiu
Dr. Cate Edlebeck
Ms. Heidi Himler
Dr. Martha Johnson-Olin
Ms. Heidi Julius
Mr. James Kuzhippala
Dr. Jonathan Lam
Mr. Laure’L Santos
Mr. Randal Walden
Mr. Wyatt Ziebell
EPIC Instructor of the Year
Workforce Development Instructor of the Year
Adult Basic Education Instructors of the Year
Outstanding Faculty Advisor of the Year
Dr. Kofi Poku, Business and Entrepreneurship Club
Professional of the Month
Dr. Ayodele Akinola
Dr. Natalie Brown
Dr. Joan Steinman
Part-Time Faculty Excellence in Teaching
Lola Barney, College Transition Math
Maddie Dolan, English
Lisa Durgin, Veterinary Nursing
Dr. Greg Eissmann, Dental Hygiene
Dr. John Hasenau, Veterinary Nursing
Deb Scott, Dental Hygiene
John Stamps, Architecture and Drafting
Veronica Tognoni, Dental Hygiene
Part-Time Faculty of the Month
Nicholas Di Meo