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2011 Employee Spotlight

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Diana Casteel Personifies
the Mt. SAC Hallmark of
“Excellence and Distinction”

Diana Casteel
Diana Casteel
Diana Casteel
Diana Casteel
Diana Casteel
Diana Casteel

After a distinguished 20-year career at Mt. SAC, Diana Casteel has retired and said farewell to the campus community this week. She did so with the distinction of having served as only the second Executive Assistant to the President and Board of Trustees during the college’s entire 65-year history. Incredible indeed!

Diana is widely regarded as the personification of the Mt. SAC hallmark of excellence and distinction. She has served the educational sector for some 40 years, including an eight-year tenure at the Rowland Unified School District. Upon arriving at Mt. SAC in November 1991, she made history as she replaced retiring Deanie Morales, the college’s first and only Executive Assistant to the President up until that time. Over Diana’s 20-year tenure, she served at the side of four of Mt. SAC’s nine presidents—Bill Feddersen, Chris O’Hearn, John Nixon, and currently Bill Scroggins. “I enjoyed working with all of them and for different reasons,” she says.

During this time, Diana has seen the college evolve into the outstanding institution it has become. And while she has many fond memories, there are a few moments and events she will treasure forever . . . like the college’s 50th Anniversary Gala, held in 1996 at the Industry Hills Sheraton (now Pacific Palms Resort). “I liked that the best,” she says, reflecting on the formal dinner, dancing and “a host of great memories.”

As she reflected on her long Mt. SAC career, one of Diana’s proudest moments was when she received the employee recognition award that she helped establish—the “Atta Bear.” Receiving that award “really meant the world to me,” she says. Then there are those incidents she’d rather forget . . . like the time that sap from freshly pruned trees dripped on her car after she was assured it was safe to park there. “I just picked the worst parking spot imaginable,” she sighs.

Unlike most employees, Diana essentially had six “bosses”—the President and five Trustees, which required extraordinary prioritizing and multitasking skills. Scheduling and rescheduling meetings, keeping everyone informed of activities and commitments, managing the Board Agenda, taking and posting meeting minutes, and keeping track of a multitude of details represents just the tip of Diana’s iceberg on a daily basis. And she pulled it all together somehow to the highest standards of professionalism, style and grace.

“Quite honestly I don’t understand how Diana reported the actions of the board with not one single error in the minutes over all these years,” marveled Board President Rosanne Bader in her tribute to Diana at the Dec. 14 meeting. “She’s absolutely incredible. And we will sorely miss her!”

Diana officially retired in June, but has stayed on for six months to help with the transition period for incoming President Scroggins and the hiring of her successor.

“Diana is the glue that holds the college together,” said President Scroggins in his tribute to her. “I personally appreciate her staying on to help me during this critical transition period. The college owes a lot to Diana, as she represents the excellence and distinction that we strive to uphold.”

“That’s just like Diana, willing to go the extra mile to ensure a smooth transition for others,” said Denise Lindholm, who succeeds Diana as the third Executive Assistant to the President. “I know I have huge shoes to fill in this new role, and I just pray that Diana will answer the phone when I call needing her help.”

While Diana has enjoyed her two decades at Mt. SAC, she anxiously looks forward to a new pace and a radically different lifestyle. “But I admit that I’m a little nervous,” she confided.

Her retirement “to do” list includes oiling her rusty golf game. “It absolutely needs some attention,” she says apologetically. For years, Diana has regularly participated in the Mt. SAC Golf Classic and played in a summer league that the college used to sponsor. “I also have a bucket of books to read,” she adds.

In retirement, Diana also plans to become more involved with the civic organization, Hope for the Hills, in her community of Chino Hills and will continue to meet up with her Mt. SAC card-playing friends, who play a game ironically named, golf.

At her retirement celebration on Dec. 14, she bid farewell to her campus colleagues and friends and to three of the presidents she served (Feddersen, Nixon and Scroggins). While she vowed not to give a parting speech (“I cry too easily!”), she did manage to share these heartfelt words: “It’s often said when you retire that it’s the people who you will miss most of all. And that is so true about the way I feel about all of you at Mt. SAC.”—Mike Taylor & CB (Posted 12-16-11)

Leaving Behind a Legacy of Student Service

Susan Jones Has “Shown Students the Money” for 37 Years

Susan Jones
Susan Jones
Susan Jones
Susan Jones
Susan Jones
Susan Jones
Susan Jones

For nearly four decades, Financial Aid Director Susan Jones has been chanting with passion her career mantra: “Show me the money!” That’s why she has worked untiringly with her team over the years to fight for every dime they could get to help Mt. SAC students realize their life’s dreams.

Their collective persistence has paid off, big time! Over the past four years, the amount of financial aid funneled through Mt. SAC has soared by 141%—to a record $51 million this year. Susan’s Financial Aid team took on the herculean task of processing a record 34,716 financial aid applications over the past academic year—up 97% from the 17,608 applications filed in 2007-08.

It was remarkable statistics like these and other achievements that were cited and lauded at Susan’s retirement celebration, held Nov. 2 at Founders Hall. The event featured tributes from trustees, President Bill Scroggins, VP Audrey Yamagata-Noji, and the Financial Aid team, as well as guest presentations from Susan’s community college colleagues across California and legislative representatives. The celebration also featured a tearful “Oprah-style” moment—a surprise visit by her daughter, Stephanie, and grandsons Daniel and Brandon, who flew in from Texas. And the icing on the funnel cake served was a musical serenade by the Trio Ellas mariachi group, a gift from Jim Ocampo and the Student Services management team. It was a fitting testament indeed to Susan’s rewarding career and enduring legacy.

First as assistant director and later as director of financial aid, Susan has made Mt. SAC her lifelong vocation for 37 years. “I tell people this has been my longest relationship,” she jokes. And what a fruitful relationship it’s been!

Throughout her career, Susan has been dedicated to improving service delivery processes to serve thousands of students. One of her crowning achievements was the development of the Board of Governors Fee Waiver and Cal Grant modules in the Banner system. Those modules now serve as models for other community colleges throughout California. She also oversaw Mt. SAC’s participation in the successful pilot program, “Aid Like a Paycheck,” which helps students better manage their financial aid dollars over time as they would a paycheck.

“You are a financial aid legend not only throughout the state but also throughout the nation,” said President Scroggins, referring to Susan’s leadership roles in the California Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (CASFAA). As President, she advocated for reforms and policies that benefitted students. And for her effectiveness, she received numerous CASFAA honors, including the Segmental Leadership Award, the Meritorious Award, the President’s Award, the Outstanding Service Award, the Special Recognition Award (for her term as President), and the ultimate Lifetime Achievement Award.

“This job has been rewarding, because I know over the years I’ve made a difference in students’ lives,” says Susan, who painfully knows all too well the economic plight of struggling students. “I’ve lived it,” she recalls. “Having to overcome the same hurdles as our students gives me a better understanding of their needs.”

As a teenager and one of nine children, Susan worked hard in the agricultural fields of the Imperial Valley to help her family survive and pay for the basic necessities. She remembers her parents warning: “If you don’t want to do this for the rest of your life, you need to get an education.”

And so she did just that. Susan started college as a business major at Imperial Valley College. In 1971, she transferred to San Diego State University, where she began her journey into the financial aid world as a work-study student in the Financial Aid Department. Her initial goal was to become an IRS auditor, but later decided it “might be easier to give out money than to try to collect it.” Susan went on to complete her education at the University of La Verne, where she earned her bachelor’s in business administration. And the rest is history.

Susan’s most memorable Mt. SAC moments include the annual Ca$h for College fairs and seeing the smiles on students faces as they received their awards at the annual Scholarship Ceremony. Another highlight would be the opening ceremony for her pet project—the new Veterans Resource Center, which finally established a permanent venue for serving those student vets who selflessly served their country. But personally, the key sentimental moment for Susan was enrolling her children in the college’s Child Development Center and 20 years later seeing her grandson enrolled there, too. In this transition phase of retirement, Susan plans to learn how to “let go.” Perhaps traveling and some part-time consulting work will facilitate that. But topping her to-do list undoubtedly will be to spend quality time with her family—especially her adored grandsons. Congratulations, Susan, and all the best in this phase of your journey!—Mike Taylor & CB (Posted 11-8-11)


New Planetarium Head Reaches for the Stars

Nixon photos

You might say new Planetarium and Astronomy Observation Center Supervisor Heather Jones is inspired by the stars. Although she’s been at Mt. SAC for only six months, she has nearly as many new ideas for the planetarium as there are stars in the sky.

“I want to bring the planetarium to the community and make it an educational tool for the college community,” said Heather, who comes to Mt. SAC straight from the astronomy graduate program at Brigham Young University.

At BYU, Heather served as the assistant director of the university’s Royden G. Derrick Planetarium, where she developed a number of innovative programs, including presentations on cultural astronomy, constellations, and even a field trip show. She also coordinated the planetarium’s first Astrofest in 2009, which incorporated planetarium shows with science demonstrations.

She wants to bring those same astronomy ideas­–and others–to Mt. SAC’s Jim & Eleanor Randall Planetarium, which reopened eight months ago after a seven-year hiatus and a $1-million renovation. It is the only planetarium in the San Gabriel and Pomona valleys, boasting a state-of-the-art Zeiss Skymaster projector and a multimedia Digistar sky projection system

In addition to launching Mt. SAC’s own version of Astrofest, Heather also would like to expand the planetarium’s outreach by introducing new shows, rocket launches, and a community astronomy class. Another idea near and dear to her heart is a program for the deaf that uses American sign language, “Wonders of the Universe.” Heather herself is fluent in ASL. Both of parents are deaf, so she has a personal interest in developing such a show.

Initially, Heather became interested in astronomy while looking for an earth science book at the library. But the book that caught her eye was The ABC’s of Astronomy. She would sit for hours in her backyard star gazing. “I get a thrill every time I look at the stars,” she said. A later trip to the BYU planetarium when she was 15 years old solidified her interests.

“I thought it was coolest thing to learn and talk about the stars and eventually be able teach people about them,” she said.

Already for fall, Heather has produced a schedule that provides a rotating series of planetarium shows each week, and she plans to introduce new shows to keep the programming fresh. Heather would also like to involve different campus departments in the production of new programming.

“There are multiple opportunities to use the planetarium as a teaching tool,” she noted.

And as if that isn’t enough, there are also plans to market the planetarium as a venue for children’s birthday parties, whereby the birthday boy or girl, through an interactive program, gets to pilot the Mt. SAC II spaceship on a mission to the moon. Driver’s license not required!

So if the stars have inspired Heather Jones to breathe new life into the Mt. SAC Planetarium and astronomy, she hopes to reciprocate by inspiring others.

“This is the place where so many people can get inspired, and we need that today!”--Mike Taylor (Posted 9-1-11)


Champion . . . it’s a name and an attitude!

Nixon photos
Arnita appears in movie scene from "The 23rd Psalm," as Tina Turner in "Puttin' on the Hits," and in a teasing duet at Mountie Football/Soccer Awards Banquet.

Bearing the name “Champion” can become a burden due to people’s expectations. But Arnita Champion wears it well and is certainly up to the challenge.

She strives to be at the top of her game in all of her many roles as a Career & Transfer Services job developer, counseling professor, entertainer, personal trainer, entrepreneur, motivational speak, and mother.

One conversation with Arnita, or “Miss Champ” as her students call her, and you can tell “there’s something different about her,” says Thenushiya Vigneswaran, a business major. “She has a way of making things come alive within you and inspiring you to think like . . . a champion!”

That confidence stems from being a track and field champion in her youth, gracing the track with her gazelle-like speed. Young Arnita set high school records that remain unbroken in the 100m, 100m hurdles, and the long jump. She continued her athletic journey at Texas Southern University under a full scholarship and moved to California to train under Mt. SAC’s legendary coach, Ernie Gregoire. Arnita excelled and racked up numerous titles: “All American Hurdler,” “All-Time Individual Champion,” “U.S. Track and Field Elite Athlete,” and “National Pan American Champion.” She was also a member of the World Championship Team and was among the top eight finalists in the ’84, ’88, and ’92 Olympic Trials.

Still remarkably fit and toned at age 47, Arnita is a fitness guru and personal trainer. Her philosophy? “You can’t renew your contract on your body. You only get one! That’s why my plate has to be colorful, and whenever I can’t work in some structured exercise in my day, I’ll park by Building 67 and walk to my office in Student Services,” she says.

On stage, Arnita is a natural entertainer—indeed a champion! She has had starring acting roles in stage plays and several movie gigs, and she’s quite the singer as well. On the Clarke Theater stage, Arnita has performed memorable cameo roles in Puttin’ on the Hits (as the grand diva Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, and Tina Turner), and she has wowed crowds with her Beyonce-like gyrations and hip-hop dance routines. Also she has had recurring singing appearances at the classified employee recognition ceremonies.

Offstage and apart from Mt. SAC, the Champ mentors others through her professional and personal development program, called “Champion Enterprize” (it’s spelled that way because “you enter the program and leave with a prize”). The program serves as her platform as a motivational speaker, inspiring youth and adults to excel and achieve success. “I urge people to believe that there are no limits to what you can achieve,” she says. “The only limits are those we place upon ourselves.”

Does the weight of the name ever become overwhelming? “Sometimes I don’t feel like a champion and want to give up,” Arnita concedes. “But that’s when I muster up the strength to get up and keep going. That’s what champions do.”—CB (Posted 7-6-11)

The Nixon Retirement Plan:
a blend of consulting, cooking, and Cambria

Nixon photos

After all of the fetes are over and farewells are said, the only thing left to do is just “retire.” But President John Nixon doesn’t plan to go gently into that good night. He’ll be rather busy.

“I’m not retiring to the couch,” he says. “I’ll still be doing the things I enjoy, even including some professional pursuits.”

Already, John has lined up part-time consulting work in a field he knows intimately—education. He has a contract with the state Accreditation Commission, on which he previously served. He will also work part time for Achieving the Dream, a national nonprofit organization that fosters student success and promotes reform within the community college system.

Certainly John will carve out quality time for one of his lesser-known passions—navigating the kitchen. As a gourmet cook/foodie, John enjoys preparing elaborate meals for family and friends. His specialties are Mediterranean fare and what he calls French “comfort food.”

The gourmet side of John stems back to his youth, as both of his parents enjoyed cooking. “From a young age, I was conditioned to like to try new foods,” he says. And now fine cuisine has become a Nixon generational legacy, inasmuch as John’s son has earned a degree in the culinary arts.

After next week, John and wife Mary will move northward to their home in the quiet ocean community of Cambria. They bought the house several years ago and have had a great time renovating it over the past few years. He fondly remembers Cambria from the days of his youth when the family would drive up the California coast on vacations. “I’ve always been impressed that the ocean and pine trees could be found in the same place,” he says.

Reflecting on his seven-year tenure at Mt. SAC, John says he set three specific goals when he assumed the presidency: pass a facilities bond measure, lead the college through a successful accreditation cycle, and navigate the college through the state’s worst fiscal crisis. He has accomplished the first two, but the state and the community college system are still navigating the fiscal storm.

“However, I feel good that Mt. SAC has weathered fiscal crises better than most,” he said. “And I’m confident that we will survive this and remain focused on our mission to serve students.”

Aside from these and other accomplishments, John holds most dear Mt. SAC’s remarkable record of student accomplishment. “Those moments—the various award and recognition ceremonies—have made the greatest impression on me,” he says.

With the end of his final school year and his own retirement looming, John Nixon looks back at his years at Mt. SAC with pride and fond memories.

“Mt. SAC is the college of champions,” he sums, as if speaking as head coach at a campus pep rally. “Don’t let go of that. Keep up the standards, keep up the expectations, and keep up the good work!”—Mike Taylor (Posted 6-20-11)

“Mr. Humanities” Bids Farewell After 24 Years

Dr. Stephen Runnebohm and staff attending retirement

Standing at 6’6,” Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Dr. Stephen Runnebohm has been a “big man on campus” for a long time in more ways than one. And over the course of his nearly quarter-century tenure, he says he was slowly seduced by the campus.

“Mt. SAC traps you—for all the good reasons,” says Steve, who is retiring on June 30 after 24 years of service. “The college is top rate. The people here are great. We get excellent benefits. We have a beautiful campus, located in a great part of the country. What is there not to like?”

Steve stepped onto the Mt. SAC campus in June 1987 as the new dean of humanities and will be leaving as dean of the same division. But along the way, he has accomplished more than he probably ever imagined. Under his leadership, the college established the Honors Program (now the state’s largest), the Writing Center (which grew exponentially in its first two years), the Teacher Preparation Institute, and the Study Abroad Program, which has enriched the life experiences of scores of students.

With Steve’s support, the forensics program ascended to and has maintained top national ranking, as has the journalism program. Steve has been a familiar speaker at hundreds of events on campus for over two decades, and he established the Lyceum Speaker Series. In addition, he was one of the main advocates for the construction of a campus performing arts center. Steve was named “Manager of the Year” twice and was selected as an “Educator of Distinction” six times.

But aside from the stats he’s racked up, there are the indelible impressions he’s made on students and staff alike. The mention of his name evokes such descriptors as: “The consummate gentleman.” “The diplomat.” “The can-do optimist.” “A connoisseur of the finer things—especially wine!”

“Steve’s been a true mentor whose leadership and nurturing have not only made us better educators, but also better people,” notes his right-hand man, Humanities Associate Dean Jim Jenkins. “For Steve, professionalism matters, but character counts.”

There is also the “problem-solver, fixer side” to Steve, whose leadership style is balanced with compassion. In countless meetings with parents, students, and staff, he looked for the path leading to an amicable solution. “There were occasions when I could turn a wrong into a right with students and faculty who had problems,” he says.

Steve possesses a brand of wisdom and friendliness you just don’t find every day. He incorporated such wisdom into the workshops he occasionally conducted on campus, such as “Dealing with Difficult People.”

“I found that in life when you come right down to it, most of our problems are actually quite small,” he says in his vintage philosophical way.

Steve also recalls lighter memorable moments of his tenure—like the time early in a semester he conducted a classroom observation and was amazed that the instructor knew all the students’ names after just one class meeting. “She later confided in me that before I came in, she told all the students to answer to any name she called them.”

Steve came to Mt. SAC via the University of Arkansas, the University of Missouri, and Harvard as well as a stint as a managerial consultant for the State of Arkansas. But what a lot of people don’t know is that this cultured, sophisticated professor was raised on a farm in Indiana with pigs and cows and soybeans and corn. Upon coming of age, he couldn’t wait to venture out and verify that what he saw on TV of the outside world—especially California—was real.

“I found out that there really was a Hollywood, but not everybody lived in Brentwood as I thought,” he muses.

While Walnut didn’t have the fame and celebrity of Hollywood, it did offer the suburban charm that resonated with his rural roots. It became the place Steve would call “home” for the next 24 years until his retirement.

“I knew it was time to retire when I was talking on my cell phone after work one day while walking to the parking lot,” he says. Thinking he had left his cell phone in the office, he abruptly made a U-turn and headed back to the division office. “I actually told the person I was talking to that I had forgotten my cell phone in the office.”

In retirement, Steve plans to travel, help children learn to read, and do a lot of what he calls “introspection.” But he’s especially looking forward to running on his own schedule­­ . . . or not a schedule at all. “What I’m looking forward to most is spontaneity.”

At his retirement celebration on June 9, Steve’s faculty members gave him plenty of books and other literary gifts that will take his soul to that place of tranquility he so deeply treasures. He will also have ample opportunity to reflect upon the many accolades and moving tributes that Mt. SAC family members lavished upon him.

“A big part of me just wants to find a large parcel of land where I can walk and be introspective,” he says, “a very quiet place where the only things I can hear are the leaves dancing in the wind.” —Mike Taylor (Posted 6-13-11)

Michelle Now On A State Mission . . . Only Cows Can Stop Her!

michelle grimes hillmanIf you want to find Psychology Professor Michelle Grimes-Hillman early — very early — in the day, your best bet is to check the cross country course, where you'll find this self-described "exercise fiend" three-to-four-times a week between the hours of 6:30 and 7:30 a.m.

That is, as long as there are no cows!

"I'm deathly afraid of them," admits Michelle, whose fears stem from a childhood incident involving a bull at a local fair. That distraction sometimes keeps her from completing the grueling Mt. SAC course, acknowledged as one of the most arduous cross country courses in California.

"All you have to do is walk it once and you'll know why they call it Poop Out Hill," says Michelle, laughing.

But that's not the only arduous California course Michelle is treading these days. As a newly elected member of the statewide Academic Senate Board, she's ready to tackle some of the most critical issues facing the state's 2.8 million community college students in a long time.

"I'm deeply humbled and very excited about the opportunity to help students statewide," says Michelle, who represents 57 southern region colleges.

One immediate issue is SB 1440, the transfer degree bill that aims to build better relations between community colleges and the Cal State University system. The eventual goal is a seamless transfer process and articulation agreements between the two, which, in turn, would make the transfer and entire education process easier for students pursuing a bachelor's degree.

Michelle comes to the task well versed in academic senate matters, having served on Mt. SAC's senate since 2002. She presided over the governing board from 2006 to 2010.

"I like the idea of initiating change and working with colleagues on behalf of students," she says.

Michelle largely credits the Mt. SAC Academic Senate's accomplishments in recent years to the governance process, the administrative support, and the college's "students first" culture.

One student she will be personally interested in next fall is her 18-year-old son, Mike, who will join the freshman class. The fact that she teaches here doesn't seem to faze him.

"I think he'll be just fine," says mom. "It's his journey, and he has to do his journey his way."

Michelle began her career at Mt. SAC in 1998 as an adjunct professor. She referred to herself then as a "freeway flyer," because she was concurrently teaching at Glendale, Rio Hondo, Chaffey, Santa Ana, and Rancho Santiago community colleges.

It seems that she's always had close ties to Mt. SAC. Michelle grew up as a neighbor to legendary head baseball coach Art Mazmanian, she attended Mountie baseball games all the time; she was a kindergarten classmate of former Public Information Director Jane (Skraba) Faulkner-Wright; and she's married to Scott Hillman, who works with the Faculty Association.

As far as her "exercise fiend" label goes, Michelle says she has a way to go. She's taken dance classes on campus. She's competed in the Shar Anderson Memorial Run and taken third place. But her goal is to compete in half marathons.

"I'm more of a walker, not a runner," she notes.

Yet in her role as a statewide leader and advocate for educational quality, Michelle is well into the race. And one gets the feeling that even cows wouldn't be able to deter her from the task at hand. — Mike Taylor (Posted 5-20-11)


Professor “Sheds” His Soul in
East of Los Angeles

What most people don’t know about English Professor John Brantingham is that he spends a lot of time in his backyard shed. An awful lot of time.

“There’s nothing that gives me greater pleasure than sitting in that shed writing and revising,” said John, who recently finished his latest book after seven years in the making.

East of Los Angeles, a collection of poems about the suburbs of Los Angeles, was published in February by the Anaphora Literary Press. In it, John writes about the freeway systems, wildfires, earthquakes, art, jazz, and even his wife—to mention only a few of his subjects.

“The poems show my love for the area I grew up in,” he said, “and also my hate for the smog and the heat.”

East of Los Angeles is available through, the Village Book Shop in Glendora, and will eventually be available through the Mt. SAC bookstore. Yet this poetry collection is just the latest venture into the writing world for John, who has published more than 100 poems and stories in the United States and England.

In addition, he has published three chapbooks of poetry—The Mediterranean Garden, Heroes for Today, and Putting in a Window. He has been nominated for the American literary Pushcart Prize four times for his poetry and short fiction, and he has had two of his poems—“Putting in a Window” and “When I Call”—read on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac radio program.

And as if revising his own work and grading student essays wasn’t enough, he also dons a hat as a fiction editor for the national Chiron Review, which publishes a wide range of contemporary creative writing. “Over breakfast, I can read a submission and accept or reject it,” he said.

John started teaching at Mt. SAC as an adjunct professor in 1998 and was hired full time in 2002. But he actually got his first taste of the college as a student, and it was here where he found the path he would follow.

“That was the transformational moment of my life,” John said. “That’s when I saw I had some potential. It was as a student at Mt. SAC that I saw myself as someone who could accomplish something.”

John went on to earn his bachelor’s in English at Cal Poly and his master’s from Cal State Long Beach. Afterward, he took on part-time teaching stints at Cal State Long Beach and Golden West College only to return to where he started—Mt. SAC.

As a professor at Mt. SAC, he has taken on a mountain of responsibilities, including helping to coordinate the Writers’ Day program, serving as the advisor to the Creative Writing Club, writing a department textbook, creating the new creative writing degree program, and serving as assistant director for the Honors Program. Still, the largest part of what he does he does for his students.

“A big part of me is really social and enjoys interacting with students,” he said.

And John’s students, in turn, have reciprocated in a sense. Often they become the models for characters in his writing. “They’ve worked their way into my consciousness,” he said.

But whether he’s writing in the shed or teaching in the classroom, John Brantingham makes the most of his talent and the skills he has developed over the years. He has been named a Mt. SAC Educator of Distinction three times by his students, who know his expertise in the classroom. His writing peers know his dedication to his craft, so it’s easy to see he is someone who definitely practices what he preaches.—Mike Taylor


Kelly Ford: softball, red licorice,
and 400 wins!

What a lot of people may not know about Mt. SAC’s head softball coach, Kelly Ford, is that she indulges in her private vice—red licorice, before every game.

“I’m somewhat of a red licorice freak,” said Kelly, who won her 400th game as a Mountie coach on March 19 during a doubleheader with Palomar College.

As it turns out, the 400th was an extra-innings affair in which the Mountie women spoiled a comeback by Palomar and ended up winning 7-5 in eight innings. But this is nothing new for the Mt. SAC softball program.

Over the past decade since Kelly took over the reins, the Mounties have won four state championships (in odd-numbered years ’03, ’05, ’07, ’09) and seven conference titles. Even more impressive is the fact that over this period, Mt. SAC has made it to the state softball championship eight times—meaning the Mounties have seldom been less than No. 2 in the state throughout her tenure.

“What’s been amazing are the athletes who have come through this program,” said Kelly. “They’re not playing on scholarships. They’re here for the love of it, and we ask a lot of them.”

So how does one accrue 400 wins? “We work our tails off,” she quipped.

Her players devote 20 to 30 hours a week to the team in addition to carrying a full academic load. When you couple that with study time to make grades, her athletes don’t have a lot of spare time. “I think my number one job with my students is to build confidence,” she said.

In turn, that confidence has later translated into post-Mt. SAC stats: 96% of her softball players have continued their education and received scholarships to four-year colleges and universities. This speaks to the fact that what she teaches her students isn’t limited to the playing field.

“It’s not all about softball,” she said. “It’s about teaching life skills. The one thing I hope my students come away with is self-confidence—not just in sport, but in life.”

Kelly, herself, is the product of a community college. She played softball for Central Arizona and went on to play and coach for the University of Oklahoma. She later went on to coaching stints at Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Northridge, and part of what she tries to create for her students is that Division I atmosphere here at Mt. SAC.

“There is a championship culture here at Mt. SAC,” said Kelly. “All the way from the top down, the athletic programs here have received the support they need for success.”

Outside of the softball field and Mt. SAC, the light of her life is her 1-year-old foster baby, Sarah. As it turns out, Sarah is also part of the Mt. SAC landscape—at the Child Development Center. She also attends every softball game. “She’s given me a good sense of balance in life,” the proud mom said.

While the demands of coaching 20-plus athletes and rearing a 1 year old is certainly challenging, it hasn’t fazed Kelly nor hurt the Mounties’ chances in 2011. As of late March, the team was ranked No. 3 in the state with a 21-1 record and a 21-game winning streak. And if history is any predictor of success and the odd-numbered state championship tradition holds true, 2011 could very well be another winning year.


Photo of Mary Lange working with studentsMary Lange: Mt. SAC’s Nominee for State
Classified Employee of the Year

Older Adult Program Supervisor Mary Lange has been selected by the Classified Senate as Mt. SAC’s nominee for the prestigious statewide Community College Classified Employee of the Year Award.

The Chancellor’s Office, Board of Governors and the Foundation for California Community Colleges will honor up to six classified employees who were nominated by their colleagues and endorsed by their local boards of trustees. Award winners will be announced at the May meeting of the Board of Governors. Nominees are evaluated on their commitment to the mission of community colleges, professional ethics and standards, service to the institution through participation in professional and/or community activities, and service as a leader beyond the local institution.

Mary was recommended by a Mt. SAC subcommittee composed of Liz Callahan, Jacqueline Carmona, Karen Braggins, Eula Gray, Nancy Gordien, and Deejay Santiago. President John Nixon and the college trustees endorsed her nomination.

“Mary is an outstanding choice, not only because of her involvement and leadership in the older adult educational community, but even more so because of her passion for the program and her students and for her exemplary dedication as a classified employee,” said Mt. SAC Classified Senate President Donna Lee. At the statewide level, the subcommittee cited Mary’s leadership as president of the California Community College Educators of Older Adults.

Mary says she was stunned and humbled upon being notified of her selection. “I’m indeed honored, and the honor belongs to everyone I work with,” said Mary, who has overseen the Older Adult Program in the Continuing Education Division for the past 17 years. “They say if you choose a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. And that’s the way I feel about my job. It’s something I love to do every day.”

The Older Adult Program at Mt. SAC has a stellar reputation for offering a content-based vocational curriculum for persons age 55 and older. Some 5,500 students are engaged in 200 classes each week at nearly 30 satellite sites throughout Mt. SAC’s geographic district. In addition to offering such courses as basic computing, health, nutrition, and fine arts, OAP is one of five colleges nationwide that operates a brain fitness program. According to Continuing Education Dean Donna Burns, that program is demonstrating better learning outcomes than expected, resulting in improved cognitive functioning for participants.

“My work is extraordinarily rewarding,” says Mary, who joined Mt. SAC 25 years ago as a faculty member fresh out of college. “Seeing the students succeed and experience fulfillment, seeing them apply what they learn to create sideline businesses to generate supplemental income—all of that spells lifelong learning and life enrichment for older adults. That’s what drives me every day!”

Employees “walk the walk” for children’s health

Mt. SAC employees “walk the talk” when it comes to supporting a variety of charitable causes. And sometimes they literally “walk the walk”—in this case, the recent Walk Through the Park fundraiser at Disneyland, sponsored by Children’s Hospital of Orange County. The Mt. SAC team raised $2,100 to help sick children.

English Professor Maya Alvarez-Galvan participated because of her son, Marco, and was joined by Counselor Patricia Maestro and English Professor Kristina Allende.

“The reason I walk for Children’s Hospital is because my son was born 11 weeks prematurely and weighed only three-and-a-half pounds at birth,” said Alvarez-Galvan. “He stayed 52 days at Children’s Hospital, where he received excellent care, and I believe that he is now a healthy child because of the medical attention he received at the hospital.”

In all, Team Marco had 13 participants who walked through Disneyland for the cause. Along the way, the faculty members ran into other Mt. SAC participants—Student Services Executive Assistant Susana Andrade and Chemistry Professor Jenny Leung.

Walk Through the Park attracted over 14,000 walkers from 795 teams, who collectively raise a record $2 million.

Anyone interested in joining Team Marco next year may contact Maya Alvarez-Galvan at ext. 4222 or e-mail her at