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Vol 57 No. 9 : May 2005
Vol 57 No. 9 | May 2005

Outstanding Professors of the Year

Jana Echevarria

Jana Echevarria

Jana Echevarria of the Educational Psychology, Administration and Counseling Department has taught everywhere from a small Mexican village to a Taiwan classroom where she taught English while learning Mandarin Chinese. That experience goes a long way toward explaining her recognition as one CSULB's outstanding professors in 2005.

“It really is an honor,” said the Long Beach resident who joined the university in 1993 and who served as department chair from 2002-04. “My first reaction was to feel very humbled that my colleagues would select me. It almost doesn't seem right to receive an award for doing something I love to do anyway.”

Her professional experience includes elementary and secondary teaching in general education, special education, English as a Second Language (ESL) and bilingual programs. She has lived in Taiwan and Mexico where she taught ESL and second language acquisition courses at the university level, as well as in Spain where she conducted research on instructional programs for immigrant students.

She feels one reason she was recognized was the balance she has struck between teaching, scholarship and service.

“I love teaching and I've always had good feedback,” she said. “Sometimes, I feel I was born to teach. Through some research grants I've had, I've been able to keep my research agenda going. In the last few years, I've published a model of instruction for English learners that, to my surprise, has really taken off nationwide. I've consistently tried to perform a lot of service here. Perhaps my greatest service came in the midst of the budget crisis when I gave up my love of teaching and served as department chair for two years.”

Her work from a seven-year grant project (1996-2003), “The Effects of Sheltered Instruction on the Achievement of Limited English Proficient (SIOP) Students” with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) and National Institute on the Education of At-Risk Students (NIEARS), resulted in development of a model of instruction for English learners, the SIOP Model, currently used in all 50 states and several countries.

She received her bachelor's degree in Liberal Studies in 1978 and her master's in Bilingual Studies in 1984 from CSULB before acquiring her doctorate in education from UCLA in 1993. Her UCLA doctorate earned her recognition from the National Association for Bilingual Education's Outstanding Dissertations Competition.

Some of her strengths as an educator come from many different levels of classroom experience.

“They've given me sensitivity because I know the importance of different levels, content areas and programs,” she said. “More importantly, I can connect with our students because I can give an example to a high school teacher from when I was a high school teacher. When an elementary school teacher does not know how to deal with his or her kids, I can say, 'when I taught elementary school, this was how I worked with kids with disabilities in the classroom.' I've been a bilingual teacher so I know what it's like to be in a minority program on an English-speaking campus. I know what it's like to be an English as Second Language teacher in a foreign country.”

Travel has been a big career enhancement. “I've stayed a couple of weeks in a small rancho house in Mexico that did not have running water,” she said. “Because I lived in Taiwan, I understand a little better the cultural background and educational opportunities they have there and how our system differs from theirs. There is an expression in Chinese that says, it is more important to visit 1,000 places than read 1,000 books. I understand from a personal point of view the experience of being someone who doesn't speak the language fluently so I have a sensitivity for what many of our parents and kids in school are going through.”

Joining CSULB has been one of the best decisions she's ever made. “First of all, I love the commitment to teaching on this campus,” she said. “There have been a number of faculty here who have had the opportunity to move to a more research-oriented campus and declined because we have a commitment to students, to teaching and to the community. It is such a vibrant campus and a wonderful place to work.”

Ramses Toma

Ramses Toma

For more than 20 years, Ramses Toma has shown time after time that he is a “student's professor” at CSULB, and perhaps it is that reputation which stood out most when the professor of food science and nutrition was selected as a recipient of one of the campus' 2005 Outstanding Professor Awards.

The Outstanding Professor Award, which was established in 1980, is designed to reward and publicly acknowledge outstanding professorial performance. It is the only honor given by Cal State Long Beach that recognizes excellence in three specific areas – instruction and instructionally-related activities, scholarly and creative activities and professional service.

Sue Stanley, chair of the Family and Consumer Sciences Department, quickly pointed out that Toma's nomination was completely initiated by his students, which is not the norm. She said the professor is a “very special” faculty member and “extremely deserving” of the award.

“I am absolutely thrilled. This is the highest honor the university can give in recognition of a professor's work,” said Toma, who joined the CSULB faculty in 1984. “I am also pleased to received the award because it is good recognition for the campus' Department of Family and Consumer Sciences and College of Health and Human Services.”

One of the best examples of that dedication to his students came last spring. At the beginning of the semester, with class assignments and course offerings already set, Toma agreed to take on and additional course – Recent Advancements in Food Science – despite his already full teaching load because students needed the class for their master's work.

“Dr. Toma is an outstanding professor (who) continually supports the dietetics and food service students in their educational careers,” wrote Laura Woiemberghe, one of the students from that reinstated course, in a letter of nomination on Toma's behalf.

“He works endlessly and wholeheartedly to guide, support and open doors of opportunity for those (who) hold him as not only their professor, but as their mentor and friend as well,” read another letter that was signed by more than 40 of Toma's current students.

Toma believes his student evaluations and his research were two areas that captured the attention of the awards committee as it considered nominees for the award. He also noted that his service to the community, including the food industry, and his work in placing students in jobs may have helped sway the committee.

“I run an employment agency for free here,” Toma said, only half jokingly. “I take care of my students after they graduate by giving them announcements for jobs and contacting the companies on their behalf, and they deserve it. I have the cream of the crop as far as students at Cal State Long Beach are concerned, and I am extremely proud that 92 percent of them are employed. Most of them are still in the Southern California area and their achievement in the industry is great recognition for me and the university.”

In addition to helping them find jobs, Toma also encourages and assists his students and former students in publishing their work. To date, he has helped more than 50 graduate students achieve academic authorship.

Toma's current research has focused on anti-oxidants in foods. In particular, he explained, there are natural anti-cancer agents in some foods such as licopene in tomatoes and reservatrol in blueberries.

“We are currently working on preparing a loaf of bread for PKU (phynel ketonoria) patients. These PKU patients can't consume regular bread because it causes severe seizures,” Toma pointed out. “So, we have to use the starch and we add a few components to it so that the final product looks and tastes like bread. This way, the PKU patients can enjoy bread and get the carbohydrates that they need without getting the gluten, which is the protein in bread that actually causes the seizures in these patients.”

And, when he is not busy in the classroom or the laboratory, Toma finds the time to be an active participant in a number of professional and/or educational organizations. He is vice president for the Egyptian American Scholars; a fellow of the American Institute of Chemists, which is usually granted after 25 years of service plus publication; a professional member of the Institute of Food Technologists; and on the advisory board for the nutrition program at Orange Coast College.

It's all part of the job as he sees it. It is something he enjoys, and it's something he doesn't want to stop doing…just yet.

“I was planning to retire a few years ago, but I postponed it for a little while,” Toma said. “As long as I am capable of doing my work to my expectations, I will continue to do so.”

Claire Martin

Claire Martin

There's a balancing act going on in CSULB's Department of Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures that has put the spotlight on Claire Martin as one of the university's three outstanding professors of the year.

The Long Beach resident and member of the university since 1988 believes a keen sense of intellectual balance between teaching, scholarship service to the university is one reason for her recognition.

“This is what I've always wanted to do because I am equally interested in teaching, research and service,” says the Argentine-born-and-raised expert in 19th and 20th century Spanish American literature. “Truly a third of your career commitment goes toward meaningful service. There are so many ways to influence curriculum decisions, programmatic changes and professional development. I have taken advantage of different kinds of opportunities afforded to faculty here at CSULB – workshops, team teaching, grants, fund raising and faculty governance. It is difficult to say no to all those opportunities. I think that is the nature of my accomplishment, to balance out all three, because I truly want to be involved in all of them.”

Being trained as a language teacher has helped her in the classroom.

“Being in a language classroom necessitates your being very well prepared and well organized,” she said. “The idea is not to do all the talking. The classroom has to be very interactive. To be interactive, you have to think about each activity and what the goal will be. My students carry a heavy reading load in the upper-division and graduate courses. In the classroom, what I like to do is work with the text, paragraph-by-paragraph, sentence-by-sentence, word-by-word, so that we get to the meaty part of it. It is in those shared moments that teaching and learning fuse and become meaningful to the professor and the students. I truly love teaching.”

Martin feels that research is probably one of the most difficult things to do in a university like CSULB with its heavy teaching load.

“Keeping your research agenda viable is tough,” she said. “I published my dissertation in 1995 and from there, I decided to write a two-volume work co-authored with a friend and colleague on a field that was pretty much undiscovered – 19th century Spanish American women writers. We wrote a tome of critical essays and an anthology of 19th century Spanish women writers that would be useful to other faculty. For 10 years, we traveled the world to visit archives and libraries in France, Spain, Argentina, Peru, the U.S. and Chile to gather texts that were very difficult to find. Last semester, I used the two volumes for the first time and it worked beautifully. If I'm proud of something related to my research, it is that. Not only is it interesting to experts in the field but also it is very useful and practical.”

Martin is a full professor of Spanish, as well as program director and undergraduate advisor. She earned her B.A. and M.A. in Spanish from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (1980-83) and her Ph.D. in Spanish from Yale University in 1988.

“My father was from the French Alps and like many of his uncles and neighbors, he left for Argentina in 1927 where he met and married my mother in 1947,” she recalls. “My family left Argentina in the early 70s during the 'dirty war' never to return. My brother, my sister and mother still live in Chambéry where my father's ancestors can be traced back to the 14th century. My sister and I are the first ones to go to the university.”

When she isn't making CSULB a better place to live, she enjoys traveling, enjoying extravagantly rich meals with her friends and walking for miles and miles with a friend.

“My husband and I recently bought a 100-year-old Greek house in Turkey on the coast of the Aegean,” she said. “We plan to spend most of the summer there and travel throughout Turkey.”

The achievements of which she's proudest cannot be measured in awards or publications or titles.

“I'm proud of seizing up the incredible opportunities I came across in my life without hesitation, without fear,” she said. “I've always embraced change and that allowed me to leave Argentina in spite of leaving there a large part of myself, of studying in France and leaving with an American young man to live in London, of convincing myself that going with him to the U.S. was a rational decision, in spite of the fact that I came with a visitor's visa and with no clear plans. I'm proud of having made and kept friends throughout my life, of still loving that young man after 28 years together. I'm proud of having found a place where I know I make a difference. I'm proud of working with incredibly dedicated colleagues. I'm also proud of having published two volumes on 19th century Spanish American writers with one of my best friends. I'm proud to have done everything in my power to nurture my relationship with my family in spite of the distance that separates us.”

Martin is especially pleased to be named an outstanding professor. “It's always wonderful to be acknowledged by your peers,” she said. “To be nominated by people I work with, I respect and admire makes it even better. It feels very good.”

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