Congratulations to the 2017 Collin College Outstanding Professor of the Year Dr. Raji Kannampuzha and the 2017 Collin College Outstanding Associate Professor of the Year Kimberly O’Neil. Read on to learn about the winners and finalists.

Dr. Raji Kannampuzha teaches all levels of physics and has been teaching for 10 years in the U.S. Aware that physics intimidates students, she combines a cooperative learning environment with real-life physics such as how cell phone charging works. An advocate for undergraduate research, she is involved in the Center for Advanced Studies in Mathematics and Natural Science (CASMNS). She also participates in the college’s annual District Science Day for area middle school students and assists with Star Parties, open to community members for viewing of the cosmos.

“My approach on the first day of class is to make them feel comfortable and relaxed. I do this is by incorporating the principles of cooperative learning in the class room—focusing on group work. This also helps the international students who are in general very shy and are scared to ask questions or to participate in the class discussions. I have noticed a positive attitude and a high appreciation to learn physics after this method was introduced. I believe that physics is better learned and understood through demos and illustrations.” 

Kimberly O’Neil has been an associate professor for eight years and has been teaching at Collin College for three years.

In addition to teaching traditional, dual credit and hybrid government classes, O’Neil participates in the Collin Mentor program, and she brings textbooks to life with personal experiences and current events. A former city manager with more than 20 years of public leadership experience, she was recognized by the Dallas Business Journal as a 2017 Minority Business Leader.

“My style of teaching infuses textbook material with examples from my experiences. Government courses can sometimes be uncomfortable for students. Regardless of individual beliefs, I strive and hope to create an inclusive experience that fosters more civic engagement by the end of each course. I’m always humbled by the personal notes from students at the end of the courses. It lets me know that the students have done more than show up and do the work. It means they’ve gotten that and more.”


Outstanding Professor of the Year Finalists

Laura Bray

Joanne Duran has been teaching at Collin College for five years. A nursing professor, she teaches a variety of concepts including Clinical Judgment, Communication, Health/Nursing Informatics, Perfusion, Sleep and Tissue Integrity.  She taught clinical classes and most recently is teaching skills in the nursing lab.  She has served as the first semester coordinator since spring 2014 and the nursing lab coordinator since fall 2016.

“I put 110% or more into anything I do.  I love nursing and have dedicated my career to caring for others, including students.  Instilling these virtues in the nurses of tomorrow, I feel, is my greatest contribution to the profession of nursing and education.  I’ve put my heart and soul into my career, and I believe that is because, like nursing, it is a calling which I am meant to do.  It is not just a job or a paycheck, but a duty to preserve the integrity of the nursing profession that I love.”

Tony Howard has been teaching at Collin College since 1986. He teaches English, Comparative Religion and SAIL classes. He has served as a member of the Faculty Council, a member of the Grade Appeals Board and a co-director of the Auteur Film Series.

“Whether I am teaching Composition, World Religions, or literature, my students are sometimes frustrated by my insistence on their observing the rules of grammar and punctuation. Yet I have a drawer full of appreciative remarks from former students who are glad I was a ‘grammar Nazi’ since their writing earned them some award or promotion. To me, teaching is mostly cage rattling. If they think the same way in December as they did in August, then I have not done my job. I want to make them think outside of their comfort zones. On the first day of class I write on the board ‘I don’t want you to think what I think, but I do want you to think like I think.’”

Dr. Fernand Vera has taught guitar classes at Collin College since 2012. In addition to teaching Class Guitar I, Guitar Ensemble and Applied Lessons (Guitar), he has taught Music Appreciation, Aural Skills and Fundamentals of Music. Each fall semester, he hosts the Collin College Guitar Competition, now in its eleventh year. The one-day competition is open to high school and full-time Texas community college students. Each spring semester, Vera hosts the Collin College Guitar Festival, now approaching its sixth year. The weekend festival introduces students to guest faculty, ensemble playing, a technique class and special lectures and round table discussions. Vera also created the Guitar Artist Showcase and holds technical juries each semester as well as Guitar Get-Togethers.

“I believe it is very important to be visible to recruit new students and advertise the program to the public. Therefore, I have my students perform on and off campus and participate in guitar festivals throughout the state such as Hispanic Heritage Month, Artstravaganza, Music Series at the Atrium (SCC), local churches and cafes and guitar festivals and competitions throughout Texas,” Vera said.

Outstanding Associate Professor of the Year Finalists

Patricia Coble is beginning her 20th year of teaching at Collin College. She teaches traditional and online psychology courses and has incorporated service learning into her classes.

“I spend as much time, if not more, on helping students learn to learn strategically, intentionally and become advanced self-regulated learners (applying psychology), but I cannot do that without the collaboration, feedback, and evidenced-based pedagogy shared among Collin educators, especially other associate faculty members.  If I stand out it is only because of the influence and efforts of the associate faculty (and other faculty) that I reach out to regularly,” Coble said.

A multi-media visual artist and cultural critic/writer, Colette Copeland has been an associate professor at Collin College since 2011. While she primarily teaches Art Appreciation, last spring she also taught Foundations of Art, focusing on how photography has shaped history and contemporary culture.

A proponent of lifelong learning, Copeland believes “education should function holistically, incorporating not only a variety of disciplines and methodologies but integrating all aspects of a person’s life. We have a lot of fun, hands-on projects and a trip to museums. I emphasize contemporary artists working today, explaining how their work affects change and shapes culture.”

Adele Gordon has been an associate professor at Collin College since fall 2015. In addition to teaching biology lecture and laboratory classes, she will be serving as an Academic Planning Coach this fall. According to Gordon, many students asked if she would be holding review sessions, so she followed the example of fellow professors and began to offer district-wide review sessions.

“I genuinely love biology, and I let that show during lecture. I usually try to draw humorous, real-life examples to whatever concept we’re talking about because I know that for many people biology is intimidating,” Gordon said.

Dr. Melanie Kneen worked in environmental research before she began teaching. She has been teaching at Collin College since fall 2015. She teaches environmental science classes and volunteers as a co-advisor of the Collin College chess club.

“I encourage my students not to memorize some information but to develop their own insight and voice on the environmental issues we cover in class, to see not just the theory and background science but to identify and analyze the impact these issues have on the everyday costs of living in Collin County. For example, the invasive species ‘zebra mussels’ in Texas lakes might appear to be a nuisance to a fortunate few, if they have to scrub down a boat after a relaxing weekend on the water, but each of us should also consider the hidden costs that have been paid for treating our drinking water to remove zebra mussels or the cost of replacing pipes if they take over and clog the water distribution system. These costs are built into our everyday lives, as we pay for services or rent, or have water restrictions imposed on our gardens or if the local farms have restrictions placed on irrigation systems which make the backbone of our food supply. This invasive species is not an interesting scientific study but a line item hidden in our personal, everyday expense accounts, a cost we pay, money out of our pockets that makes living in this region a little more expensive.” 

Jennifer Swetmon has taught dental hygiene at Collin College since spring 2005. She is a clinical instructor and focuses her teaching on second-year dental hygiene students. Swetmon attended Collin College as a student, taking prerequisite courses from 1991-1992.

“I felt so very at home. I redirected my career path towards education and was able to find myself where I initially felt I belonged: at Collin. Twenty years into my profession, I am still passionate about what I get to do every day. The days I’m not at Collin, I am a practicing dental hygienist. There is no better gift than to tell a student, from personal knowledge and experience, ‘This is what I learned yesterday, let me show you.’ They all reach their ‘ah-a’ moment somewhere along the journey. To witness that moment and share in it is the reason I continue to love my job and am grateful to be at Collin.”