I am currently an Adjunct Instructor at San Bernardino Valley College, where I teach Introduction to Geographic Information Systems and Physical Geography. I have also previously taught GIS courses at the University of Redlands and University of California Riverside Extension.
How I View My Role as an Instructor
As a product of community college, I believe my role as an educator is to:
- Provide students with exposure to the subjects I teach.
- Continue to build my knowledge of changes in the discipline and look for opportunities to incorporate modern examples, different approaches, or the latest tools.
- Mentor students needing help or expressing an interest in my discipline.
- Help students find related disciplines they may want to explore.
- Provide students with the skills to succeed in their chosen subjects – whether the measure for success is transfer to a 4-year institution or entry into the job market.
- Build a foundation from which students can develop critical thinking skills and lifelong learning habits that help them succeed in their chosen subjects, professions, and academic or personal pursuits.
Why I teach Geography and GIS
I teach and study geography and GIS because I have always been fascinated with maps, spatial patterns, databases, and computers. When I was first exposed to GIS, I was excited to learn of a discipline and application that combined my love of maps and computer science. As I gained exposure to subdisciplines of geography and gained skills in geographical analysis with GIS, my enthusiasm for the subject grew and I naturally began sharing my enthusiasm with peers through presentations to and involvement in local GIS user groups, and eventually, through teaching.
In my community college years, a professor remarked that I was a natural teacher, and I later discovered my love of teaching when I was asked to teach GIS courses at UC Riverside Extension. In that role I was excited to share my knowledge and help mentor students that included individuals seeking a career change, individuals needing to add skills to stay competitive in their jobs, parents returning to the job market after raising their children, and traditional students supplementing their degree programs with technical skills. My enthusiasm was magnified when I obtained a master’s degree and became eligible to teach in the community college system.
Throughout my career, I have also worked in government, academia, and private industry. Having the experience of being a GIS professional in a variety of disciplines has enabled me to provide many real-world examples from different disciplines in my lecturers, to help connect the subject with student’s personal interests. I have also taken great pride in mentoring students trying to choose a career in geography or GIS by sharing examples from my experiences.
Diversity and Inclusion
In my time working as an adjunct instructor, I have taught and mentored recent high school graduates, transfer students, retirees or recently jobless students looking for a new career, mothers returning to college after raising their families, veterans, immigrants working towards better lives for themselves and their families, and people seeking skills to enhance their current careers. Given the multicultural demography of the Inland Empire, my classes often contain mixed ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds.
Their diversity is the “community” in community college. They bring a wonderful array of experiences and abilities to a shared goal that transcends their differences, and I find a great deal of personal fulfillment in mentoring and coaching these students to success.
I approach teaching with four core principles in mind:
First, I recognize that the best instructors I had were those who were excited about the subject they were teaching. They were the professors who continued to learn about the evolution of their subject and brought their enthusiasm lifelong learning to the classroom. An instructor who lives and breathes their discipline, generates an interest that is contagious and creates a great learning experience. My best example, and the kind of instructor I endeavor to be is, Chaffey College emeritus, James des Lauriers. He first exposed me to the discipline of Ecology, which I would later combine with Geography to study Biogeography.
Second, the most consistent complaint I hear from students is that their instructors are not available. In my experience, key teaching/learning moments happen in the instructor’s office or when students hang around the lab. As an adjunct instructor I have always aimed to make myself available for these moments by setting regular on-campus office hours and using other tools to help connect with students off-campus. While teaching at SBVC (prior to the pandemic), I always arrived at least an hour early to my on-campus courses, and stayed late, so I would be available to students. As I had no office, I used a table in the department foyer. That location also afforded me the opportunity to help students needing help from an instructor who was not in their office at the time.
Third, I have found that the best instructors are often great mentors. They are attentive to individual student needs, know how to encourage students, and help guide them on their individual career or academic paths. These instructors maintain good working relationships with other faculty at their college, faculty at surrounding colleagues and universities, and contacts in relevant industries. They use these connections to remain aware of internship and career opportunities for students and provide realistic advice about schools, programs, departments, career paths, and key skills needed to enter and excel in those academic subjects or industries.
A connection-oriented mindset can also create other opportunities within the college. For example, at SBVC, I have been discussing partnering with the Biology and Anthropology departments to introduce a unit on GIS into select courses to provide “cross-pollination” opportunities to students of those subjects.
Finally, I believe that the best instructors are active agents in their institutions. Teaching is not only about classroom and lab activities. Instructors should take an active interest in the affairs of the department and the school and participate in maintaining coherence of the department’s courses within and between institutions, ensure the department’s views are communicated during governance issues, and maintain their personal knowledge of how the institution works, so that they can appropriately guide students through the process.
Years later, I still remember what it was like to be a student and I keep that in mind when approaching every course or class session. In my own studies, the courses I regarded as the best were those in which my instructor set the bar reasonably high and provided various means to reach it. That process set the model for my teaching approach.
In every class, I aim to establish a learning and working environment that is collegial, respectful, and fair. My syllabi lay out expectations for students to attend class ready and willing to learn. In return, I promise to adhere to the syllabus, be prepared for each session, be attentive to individual student needs, and be available to help students when necessary. I also actively gauge how the class is doing, recognize when something is not working, and adaptively manage each class as needed.
I believe that students learn best by being able to personally connect to the subject matter through exposure to different examples of its real-world applications. Learning is further enhanced with the application of different modalities: discussions with peers, hands-on exercises, interactive labs, and personal mentoring. My courses combine traditional lectures, group learning, discussions, guest lectures, laboratory exercises, supplementary videos, and projects to keep students engaged, and address different learning styles.
I also believe even the best students grow tired seeing only their instructor for weeks on end. When the topic allows, I endeavor to incorporate a guest lecturer, so students see a new face and gain a new perspective on the subject. I typically invite a contact from local industry to help students see how geography and GIS skills provide the potential for future jobs in and around the region or within a particular industry. I believe this is especially helpful in community college, where classrooms contain a mix of students either looking to gain skills for immediate employment or wanting to build a knowledge base for continued study at the university level.