Each year, the Golden Bell Awards ring true for outstanding faculty, staff, and administrators who bring innovation and dedication to public education in Marin County. For the first time in its 38-year history, the award ceremony was held online in May 2020, culminating a tumultuous and challenging semester for every educational institution, including College of Marin.
With all its uncertainty, this year has illuminated more than ever the irreplaceable resource of quality educators and classified staff to accompany students on their educational journey. The Golden Bell honorees from College of Marin are three individuals, Gina Cullen, Julian Solis, and Stacey Lince, whose innovation has proven indispensable in these unprecedented times.
Gina Cullen: Making the Virtual Connection
Faculty honoree Gina Cullen is a counselor at College of Marin and her favorite part of the week? “Seeing the students,” she answers quickly. “It’s all about the students.”
Her expertise and over 20 years’ experience as an academic counselor earned her a seat as Chair of the Counseling Department and now Curriculum Committee Chairperson. A wearer of many hats, Cullen comments that she has come to love collaborating with other leaders and counselors on campus almost as much as she loved connecting with students.
“Any time you’re trying to do something new or get something launched or even tweaked or changed, it’s always a lot of work. There are roadblocks you don’t expect,” she says. “But working with people to overcome those – and I have a really great group of people that I get to work with – has been pretty rewarding.”
When the crux of your work is connecting with students and collaborating with a team, navigating the roadblock of a global pandemic is certainly one that requires a ton of ingenuity.
For example, the Counseling Department at College of Marin has always prided itself on a face-to-face model, an effective and low-impact way to serve students. Aside from setting up appointments, the entire process was void of virtual methodology. Cullen and her team have shifted every service, like one-on-one educational counseling appointments and group orientations, to virtual settings.
“When you’re used to face-to-face interaction, it’s a pretty heavy lift,” Cullen said. “I think the students miss being able to see us and we miss that aspect, too. But in the meantime, we’re doing our best to have as many meaningful experiences as possible through online platforms.”
Cullen credits her team of counselors and the Curriculum Committee for their work. “When you have a really great place to work, it’s easier to grow in your professional capacity, because you feel supported and you like working with the people,” she said.
“We all have a very student-centered focus, and that helps.”
Everyone who works at College of Marin’s Counseling office helps you find the best academic plan for your goals and gives you the option to explore careers that best fit your skills and preferences. COM offers you opportunities hard to find at four-year colleges, such as small classroom sizes and instructors who are dedicated to your success.
Julian Solis: The Professional People Person
One of the Classified honorees, Julian Solis, serves as School and Community Partnerships Coordinator at College of Marin. His job is outreach, recruiting both prospective students and potential community partners. With just four years in Marin County under his belt, Solis is a master bridge-builder as he networks to expand the College’s enrollment and involvement in the community.
He is, effectively, a professional people person.
“While we do a lot of work on campus, it’s nice to get out into the community and interact with both community members and area students,” he said of long-past typical workdays that involved visiting area high schools and attending community events.
However, social distancing guidelines were put in place parallel to what would normally be the bulk of high school visits for Solis and his team. Dozens of events were transitioned online, rescheduled, or canceled altogether.
And yet, College of Marin has seen continued growth in both attendance and support of its Summer Bridge Program in the four years since Solis has been on staff, including this year. The Summer Bridge Program is a transition program for students who are graduating high school and starting at College of Marin the following semester. The program allows students to feel fully prepared when they step foot on campus (or log in) to succeed in college, through interaction with College staff throughout the year rather than a couple of months.
Previously, Solis worked in admissions for a private university and at times would work with community colleges. Through that exposure, he knew that the next move he made would be into this realm. “You’re able to serve anyone and everyone – that’s the best thing about it,” he said. “It’s not just students that are coming right out of high school or are looking to transfer. We have students who are picking up language skills, or who are taking classes in hopes of kickstarting a career.
“For me, that is really cool.”
College of Marin’s Learning Communities, such as Summer Bridge and many others, will help support you and allow you to shine so you can thrive in your college career. COM offers you opportunities hard to find at four-year colleges, such as small classroom sizes and instructors who are dedicated to your success.
Stacey Lince: Helping Faculty Push the Boundaries of a "Classroom"
Stacey Lince is College of Marin’s Instructional Designer and also a Classified Staff honoree. Typically, her job is to aid faculty in integrating technology into the classroom settings and maintaining distance learning. This year her workload expanded from a portion of faculty and classrooms to every faculty member and every class.
Shifting an entire educational institution to online learning is one thing, but to do so while maintaining effective education strategies? Lince’s work of supporting faculty has proven more indispensable than most.
She explains that she finds the most joy when she is able to help faculty try new things, when they have brilliant ideas about how to use technology with their students but aren’t sure how to implement them. “And they think they can’t pull it off, but then they do!”
“That’s probably the most fun for me,” she said. “Watching them succeed at pushing the boundaries of a classroom a little bit and challenging their students in using educational technology.”
Now she is pushing faculty to change their mindset as they prepare for Fall instruction. “You can’t take your course as it is currently designed and move it online,” she explains. “You have to do some redesigning and rethinking of the things that you do in your classroom and how you approach that, given distance and modality.”
Lince thrives in the background in support roles, so to be honored in a public way is unexpected. “I’m just doing my thing,” she laughs. “I don’t do it to be recognized. I’m just happy to help – not just through the pandemic, but in general – to support faculty as they try new things.”
Look for the Helpers
“In difficult times, it is reassuring to follow Mr. Rogers’ advice to ‘look for the helpers,’ and take comfort that someone will always be there to provide hope, care, and leadership in the face of adversity,” read a portion of the program for the Golden Bell Award Ceremony.
Inordinate challenges and commitment highlight the remarkable determination and creativity of people like Gina Cullen, Julian Solis, and Stacey Lince.
Heroes are just ordinary people who continue to create pathways in extraordinary times.