Colorado Mountain College honors top faculty members
Once the academic year comes to a close, the administration at Colorado Mountain College acknowledges its staff with the Faculty of the Year awards.
Both adjunct and full-time faculty members are nominated from each of CMC’s campuses across the Western Slope, covering the span of the college’s 12,000 square miles. From those, senior administrators select two collegewide award winners.
“We recognize that good teaching and learning is our central core mission, so faculty take great pride and honor in the awards,” said Heather Exby, dean at the Roaring Fork Campus. “We have both faculty and students help with the nomination process.”
The following are the campus-level selections from the campuses at Roaring Fork (Glenwood Springs, Spring Valley and Carbondale) as well as Rifle. Cory Allen, from the Rifle campus, was selected as the Collegewide Adjunct Professor of the Year.
Rifle Full Time: Nephi Thompson
Thompson is the classic “cool teacher.”
He is a jack of many trades, teaching anatomy, biology, microbiology, physics and chemistry, but focuses on structuring his classrooms in a way that is a comfortable learning environment.
“My classes are not especially formal. Actually, it’s pretty informal,” Thompson said. “The two overarching goals I have are to make it relaxed, and then connected and relevant to the lives of the students.”
He is originally from Delta, but taught in Dayton, Ohio, for a few years before finding his way back home and settling at the Rifle campus. This was his 10th year teaching.
When he was in grad school to become a research scientist, he found that he looked forward to teaching the lectures for his professors more than being in the lab, so he made the switch to focus on education and never looked back.
Thompson found out that he won the Faculty of the Year honor when his boss rolled in a big cake in the shape of a brain that said, “Congratulations!” on it.
In his free time he likes to ski, rock climb and climb peaks. His favorite spot is in the San Juan Mountains near Ouray and Durango.
Rifle Adjunct: Cory Allen
In her first year of teaching at CMC, Allen was nominated as the campus-level honoree for adjunct faculty at Rifle as well as the systemwide award.
“I was surprised,” Allen said. “I haven’t been here for that long, but it’s nice to know that what I do is always noticed and appreciated by my colleagues.”
Laura Hardman, instructional chair at the Rifle Campus, was not surprised.
“I have been in her classroom and seen how she works with the students. She does not let them sit there and marinate. She always has them up, moving around and engaged,” Hardman said.
Before she began her time at CMC, she taught English at Colorado Mesa University, but switched because of the proximity to her home. She teaches mainly Composition I and II, as well as other literature courses.
“I like to involve my students as much as possible and try to make them understand why the subject is important to their lives,” Allen said.
Her favorite part of teaching is interacting with the students, and seeing where they are at the beginning and what they are able to achieve at the end.
“She had a majority of the nomination from her students. They absolutely love her. She is dynamic, innovative and connects well with her students,” Hardman said. “She’s the kind of professor that students want to take more than one semester.”
Roaring Fork Full Time: Gretchen Lamb
Lamb has been with the veterinary technician program at the Spring Valley campus for the last five years. Before that she was a private practice veterinarian in Montrose for 13 years, which allows her to bring valuable real-world experience to the classroom.
“I loved private practice, but I really felt the urge to expand on the part that I really liked — client education, and teaching people how to take care of their animals,” Lamb said. “When I saw this job open up, I thought it might fulfill exactly that.”
Because it is a technical program, Lamb teaches some basic science courses. She realizes that these can feel like a lot of rote memorization without much context, so she tries to put practical value into the classroom time as often as possible.
“If I’m teaching anatomy, I’ll also talk about taking X-rays of that particular part. Or if I’m teaching pharmacology, we’ll talk about how those medications are used in practice,” Lamb said. “I think that makes it easier for the students to learn the material.”
Lamb was just promoted from associate professor last year, so she was surprised to receive this award. When she found out that students played a big role in the nomination, she was excited that they thought her teaching was so valuable.
In the summers, Lamb still does relief work and private practice. She also enjoys spending time outdoors with her two golden retrievers, cat, and horses as often as possible.
Roaring Fork Adjunct: Natasha Williams
Prior to teaching biology at CMC, Williams got her Ph.D. in Russia, where she worked at the Research Center at the Central Siberian Botanical Garden.
“I like to tell my biology students about my research work in Siberia. It evokes interest and makes students more involved in biology,” Williams said.
Exby said that Williams sets high expectations for her students, but counters that by being extremely available. Her syllabus says students can call and reach her at anytime — night or day.
Williams also sets up her courses with a variety of ways to access material in order to make sure that all her students can understand the material in a way that works for them. For example, she’ll offer a book as well as a video option, and then give an in-person demonstration.
“We are extremely fortunate to have Natasha. When Professor [Kimberly] Harding went on sabbatical last fall, she filled in as a full-time instructor. We had no concerns that she would do a good job because she’s so capable,” Exby said.
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