17 Mar 2015

Paying it forward Heritage alumni in higher education

Paying it forward Heritage alumni in higher education

Author: Wings  /  Categories: Campus, Education  / 

The impact educators have on the lives of students is best understood by observing the path those students take after leaving the classroom. Heritage most certainly impacts students who earn their degree in education directly, but it also touches the lives of generations to come as those graduates teach and mentor their own students in classrooms throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Cynthia Johnson - Equipping Educators to Become Effective Leaders

Cynthia Johnson is the assistant professor and director of principal certification at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Johnson helps experienced teachers gain technical skills and hone leadership abilities that will allow them to be effective administrators.

Her relationship with Heritage is deeply personal. Her father, Bob Hall, owner of Hall Financial based in Sunnyside, Washington, is a major contributor to the university and helped launch the college. Johnson remembers helping her father organize a golf tournament to raise funds in the university’s earliest days. She was often on the school’s initially small campus and had the opportunity to develop a relationship with Sister Mary Rita Rohde, a member of Heritage’s original founding committee. Sr. Rohde became Johnson’s earliest mentor, and the main reason Johnson chose Heritage to earn her bachelor’s degree in education.

Subsequent to earning her B.A., Johnson returned to Heritage twice, to earn master’s degrees in special education and school administration. Today, tasked with the job of preparing aspiring principals to be not only strong administrators but strong leaders, Johnson can see even more clearly the benefits she realized from her Heritage education.

“Every instructor at Heritage was also a practitioner from a local school, whether teaching at-risk (student) populations to love science or utilizing ELL (English Language Learner) strategies for second-language learners in the field. There was an authenticity to that,” she said.

One of those instructors was Guy Kaplicky, a longtime principal in the Yakima Valley who also taught several of the science classes Johnson needed for her bachelor’s degree. Beyond the specific subject matter, Kaplicky demonstrated classroom management and leadership skills that guided Johnson’s future career aspirations.

“He was just remarkable. He was one of the most effective leaders I’ve ever seen, and he triggered in me the desire to go into school administration,” said Johnson. “Guy Kaplicky is right up there with Sister Mary Rita for me!”

In her role of developing the next generation of school administrators, Johnson takes the lessons learned from Kaplicky and other Heritage instructors and helps her students prioritize three key components of effective school administration: 1) putting students at the center of decisions, 2) knowing what data exists and how to use it to learn more about the students, and 3) building trusting relationships with all the stakeholders.

“I want these future administrators to be very passionate about the job they do and know that it really does have an impact,” she said.

Ramon Guel—From Soldier to College Instructor

Ramon Guel’s relationship with Heritage began amid the gritty sand of the Kunar Province in northern Afghanistan, where he was deployed in 2011 for the U S. Army as the executive officer of a small surgical hospital. The complexity and unpredictability of being on the front lines of a military engagement obviously does not allow for a regular class schedule—especially from halfway around the world. It was only the dedication and flexibility of his professors at Heritage that created the opportunity for Guel to complete half of his master’s degree in English online during his 13-month deployment, hunkering down in a computer bay whenever time permitted to listen to lectures from the Heritage campus.

“It was absolutely amazing to see the willingness of the instructors at Heritage to help me succeed,” he said.

Professor Loren Schmidt was Guel’s professor and mentor at Heritage, and today is also one of his bosses. Guel is a full-time instructor on campus at Pioneer Pacific College in Oregon, and also an adjunct professor at several campuses, including Heritage, where he teaches World Literature and Special Topics in J.R.R. Tolkien, both online. He is modeling his own classrooms after his experience with Professor Schmidt. 

“Professor Schmidt’s passion for his students and their success was quite overwhelming,” said Guel. “He’s been at this for years, yet has the passion and energy of a new professor. It’s so great to see that. And I try to bring that energy to my students as well.” 

Guel’s professors went out of their way to work around his unorthodox schedule while he was deployed. He remembers how important that support was to his success and models it now for his own students, making himself available whenever a student needs to interact, day or night. He can certainly relate to his students’ busy schedules, and with that insight, he’s returning the favor and building strong relationships with his students in the process.

David Garcia: The Gift of a Mentor's Life Lessons

David Garcia is the assistant director of the Unity Multicultural Education Center (UMEC) at Gonzaga University. The department focuses on diversity support and training on campus and in the wider community.

Although he manages multiple programs, one of the main initiatives is Gonzaga’s BRIDGE program, a pre-orientation that brings 40 firstgeneration students and students of color to campus five days before the rest of their peers arrive. Once there, they focus on identity development, building relationships and navigating college life. From May to September, all day, every day, Garcia works with three student coordinators who lead the program and who, in turn, coordinate a cadre of peer counselors who engage with the students.

The BRIDGE program is more than a part of his job; it’s also research for his Ph.D. Garcia has completed two thirds of his doctorate in leadership studies at Gonzaga, and, as part of his dissertation, is evaluating whether pre-orientation programs aid in student retention for first-generation college attendees or those of color.

Garcia was the first male in his family to go to college, but was not a strong student in high school. His weak grades made him literally inadmissible to most colleges and universities, but Central Washington University took a chance on him, and it paid off. After earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration, he found that he most enjoyed connecting with people and helping them find resources. He decided to pursue education and earned his master’s degree from Heritage in 2006.

“The most meaningful of my many experiences at Heritage were my encounters with Dr. Jack McPherson,” said Garcia. McPherson was a long-time instructor in the school of education, and he made a powerful impression on Garcia. “Every time you were in class, he made you feel as if you were the only one in the room.”

“As I was wrapping up my final project, McPherson was diagnosed with cancer. Leading up to some of his last days, I drove to his house. Half the day we spent on the project, and the other half he shared stories of life, leadership, being successful and caring for people. It was an amazing experience, and there are so many of his life lessons that I keep with me today.”

As Garcia weighs what’s next in his career, he has come to realize that no matter what position he holds, he wants it to involve teaching. This fall, he will teach his first three-credit class in addition to continuing his work in the education center, his doctorate research, and also being a husband and a dad to two young boys.

A teacher’s power to inspire and encourage students is undeniable. That’s what excellent teachers do; they challenge, they motivate, they adapt and they help their students believe in themselves and achieve more than they could alone, while instilling a desire in them to pay it forward and impact generations yet to come. 


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