Conversation with an Instructional Designer – Villa Vance

Mountain View College is pleased to introduce Villa Vance, an Instructional Designer from the LeCroy Center, who is providing consultation support twice a month on our campus. Please take a moment to learn more about her, in her own words.


Please tell everyone what an Instructional Designer is and what types of services and support they provide?

Instructional design (ID) is a broad area for me. Depending on where you work, it can mean different things in every area. But in higher education an instructional designer basically helps with course design. From planning and analysis, design and structuring the flow of the course, management, implementation, and evaluation. But it does not necessarily mean we always start from planning. A faculty and/or staff could come to us, and they may have done all the analysis and planning. Our job then is to help with the design and structure. As an instructional designer for the district at DCCCD we can support faculty and staff with questions about course design, course copy/template, course clean up and management, eCampus/blackboard (from simple questions about adding a syllabus to complex issue about gradebook, eConnect, Quality Matters (QM), etc. We also assist and deliver professional development workshops and presentations.


What is your professional background and why did you choose this field as a profession?

My undergrad is a BS in Computer Science and I have a master’s degree in Learning Technology with focus in Instructional Systems and Design from University of North Texas. I am also a License Vocational Nurse (LVN) but haven’t practiced for a few years now. Previously, I was an instructional designer for the eLearning Center at Collin College. I also worked for America Online (AOL) in the Philippines back when it was still famous. I stumbled into Instructional Design when I was in nursing school doing my preceptorship. I wanted to combine my computer science degree and healthcare experience and do some training work. But, I didn’t end up in the healthcare, so I chose the next best thing. To add to that, I started working for eLearning in another college and it sort of started my drive to do instructional design.

What does working in higher education mean to you?

Two things: I get to take a holiday when it is a holiday and I love being involved in a community. During my undergrad years I was very involved in my school and I think that’s when it started… somewhere in my subconscious mind, I always wanted to work in a school, so I chose higher education. Seriously, working in higher education is so great because you get to work with diverse people who help mold and share the next generation. It also means that I don’t have to be stagnant. I always need to keep up with my education/professional growth to make sure the faculty/staff I am helping are up to date with current trends.


What was the very first job you ever had and what skills did it teach you?

My first job was an adjunct faculty. It was the first job offer I got a few months after graduation. If I remember it correctly, I taught computer 101, turbo pascal and another computer languages. And because of the adjunct position, I was hired by another college to teach 3 more courses. It was challenging at first because most of my students were only a few years younger than me (1 to 2 years) and I had one class with only male students. From these two jobs, it taught me to adapt and be flexible with many different types of audiences and/or clients. It also helped in being able to communicate better. I’ve learned how to mentor others and ensure that I am constantly learning as well. I’ve also learn to take risks and be imaginative when it comes to teaching.

What about instructional design is most exciting to you?

What I find really exciting in instructional design is when I get to see the faculty I am helping flourish and be able to take the advice I gave them and use it in their course. Afterwards they’ve come back to me and tell me that it made teaching more fun or how it has a positive effect on their courses and students.

What is your first impression of Mountain View College?

I love it! The environment is very relaxing. And so far, the faculty and staff I’ve met are very nice. I like the location of the college also, tucked away in its own little place.


What is one thing you’d love to accomplish working with the amazing faculty and staff at Mountain View College?

One thing that I would like to accomplish is to establish a good rapport with the faculty and staff. And hopefully that will open the door to have more engagement, so I can better serve them.

Is instructional design limited to only those who teach in the classroom?

Definitely not. Instructional design can be applied to many different things. For example, if you are looking at a recipe online with step by step process on how to cook something, that particular process was created by someone. In some ways, they had to go through a process to put together the recipe. It may not encompass the hard-core parts and it doesn’t necessarily include all the nitty gritty parts of instructional design, but instruction and design are everywhere.

How should a faculty member prepare for a consultation with an Instructional Designer?

The preparation for a consult with the instructional designer really depends on what the faculty need help with. But the first thing that the faculty or staff need to do is to make sure to set up an appointment with the ID. This will make sure both you and the ID will be prepared because there is some sort of pre-arranged agreement for the appointment.


If interested in learning more or collaborating one-on-one, what are the next steps one should take?

Let’s chat! Essentially giving us time to collaborate on what you want to do with your course and how I can assist you. This will also give me the chance to meet more of the wonderful staff and faculty of Mountain View College.

If you would like to set up a consultation with Villa, please fill out an ID Consultation Request.


My First Flex Course

This semester I took on the challenge of teaching an eight-week flex course. You might think the student has the biggest challenge when signing up and completing a flex course due to the condensed format, but I have learned that the instructor is challenged just as much.

An eight-week course sounds amazing as opposed to a full-semester length course. Business Correspondence and Communications is a big course to offer in half the time.

Yay! The course is completed in half the time, so I have half a semester to just chill, then…right?

Wrong. I spent the first half of the semester setting up my course template and found it to be quite challenging. A condensed time frame doesn’t make a course easier. The same amount of work has to be completed by students and this requires instructors to focus time and energy on remapping curriculum. It’s the exact same amount of work as a traditional semester course. This results (surprise) is that this endeavor took large amounts of planning and time to execute.

One of my biggest challenges was determining a schedule for assignments. I continually second-guessed myself when setting up assignment due dates. I found myself wondering if a given week was too much work for my students. I had to take multiple steps back and realize that students made an informed decision in electing a flex course and in doing so are prepared for a heavier work-load. Once I let that sink in, I didn’t feel so guilty about the workload each week.


I panicked when I realized that I my online class could range in size from 15 to 37 students. That is a lot of grading to complete in just eight weeks. Yes, my class does use a Learning Management System (LMS) to aid in the area of quizzes, but 80 percent of the writing assignments are to be graded by me. I soon discovered that grading rubrics were to become my best friends. After extensive research, I developed and implemented  rubrics for all of my writing and discussion assignments. Thanks to such rubrics, I found it easier to grade all writing assignments. The rubric clearly stated the expectations for  students, but it also provided me, the instructor, very specific grading criteria for the assignment. This is now one of my top tips in working with faculty and advising their utilization of the college LMS, Blackboard.

I’m now all in and the first week of my course has successfully come to an end. Students, as it turns our, did not complain about being assigned numerous assignments. Yes, there have been a lot of questions, but they were the typical questions for the first week of any class.

Where can I find the link? How do I submit the assignment? Is it okay if I email you at midnight? These, and more, were just some of the normal questions received during a flex course (or any course for that matter).

Thanks to my careful planning though and the utilization of grading rubrics, aka my new best friend, grading has never been easier.


Will I continue to teach flex courses in the future? That is a definite, “Yes!” The ground-work has been laid to offer this flex course at any time in the future. My new course template is now designed in both eCampus and the LMS. I will simply need to request a course copy and update appropriate due dates and other minor tweaks as they occur.

The hardest work is behind me. I now look forward to continuing to teach flex courses as long as there is a need. I’m a believer.

Grading Rubric Resources

Course Mapping Resources

Teaching My First Online Course (at MVC)

There’s something exciting that occurs every time a new semester begins on a college campus. Such excitement can be attributed to first time college students on our campuses, the smell of textbooks opening for very the first time, or the optimism faculty feel when setting out to redesign curriculum.

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That’s how it starts at least. It soon develops into an official, class-three hurricane as you realize that teaching is a very difficult thing. It’s a craft that can take a lifetime to master. Teaching requires subject matter expertise, passion for your field, awareness of learning theories, meaningful engagement practices, and carefully crafted curriculum and assessment. Oh…and don’t forget you’re being rated on all of the above by your dean and via sites like RateMyProfessors by your students. Good thing teachers get paid the big bucks (lol)!

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Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love teaching. It’s been a few years since my last adjunct faculty role and it’s something I am very excited to devote time and energy to once again. My excitement is attributed to creating new instructional materials that are meaningful, memorable, and motivational for my online students. This perspective forces me to evolve each time I teach and continuously explore new tools, resources, and instructional strategies.

Three Simple Goals

This time around, in teaching my first online course at Mountain View College, I knew I wanted to accomplish three very specific things.

  1. Teach without a textbook
  2. Utilize free, Open Educational Resources (OER)
  3. Introduce micro-credentialing to my students

Teaching Without a Textbook

It’s 2018. I see little to no reason to ask or require students to pay over $100 (and that’s cheap by the way!) for a textbook that they most likely won’t keep after my course has completed. Besides, back in the olden days when I used to require textbooks for my courses I found that many of my students never actually purchased the textbooks to begin with. They simply borrowed from another student if needed, reviewed a copy from the library, found alternative sources of information, or opted to purchase previous (much cheaper) editions. It didn’t help that every year I taught courses, new editions were released by the publisher, which meant continuously updating instructional materials and assessments. And, so after multiple years of experiencing this as an instructor…I’ve arrived at the conclusion of teaching sans textbook.


Production begins on my online course! There’s no stopping me now.  😉

Today, I create mini lectures (like the one below) on specific topics or themes and release such videos on a weekly basis along with all other material. The purpose of each mini lecture is simply to introduce a concept and motivate my students along their learning journey. Because my students are online, I find that such personalized videos help reinforce a sense of instructor presence (needed especially in online courses).

As a replacement to traditional textbooks, I have been able to find a wealth of alternative content. Below are just some of the resources I have utilized within weekly content folders of my course.

  • News articles from reputable sources
  • Social movements that connect with the material in some manner
  • TED talks focused on key messages
  • YouTube channels dedicated to the field
  • Educational apps available on Android and iOS
  • Online tutorials that often come directly from software vendors
  • Industry webinars and live streaming events
  • Case studies, current topics, and research within the field
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Example of a shared (free) resource referenced within course.

Open Educational Resources

But I haven’t stopped there. The benefits of teaching sans textbook, in my case, means that I simply find other resources to integrate into my curriculum. Much of those resources, usually driven by large grant initiatives, are classified as Open Educational Resources (OER). OER are freely accessible, openly licensed material, such as the  resources below.

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Simply type what you’re looking into this site and find OER content.

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Open Textbooks

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Just some of the many open textbooks freely available.

Still not a believer in OER or open textbooks? That’s okay. This article didn’t set out to convince anyone of switching to OER. It’s simply based on the belief that textbooks cost too much, are updated too often, and ultimately are no longer needed in today’s educational ecosystem.

Introduce Micro-Credentialing to My Students

Lastly, as if teaching without a textbook and redesigning curriculum wasn’t enough work to complete before a semester began, I still had one other major component of instruction that I wanted my students to benefit from. Instead of simply finishing my course with a grade, something of little significance outside of the academic environment, I wanted students to obtain a credential that they would actually value…something to be proud enough to share via their personal and professional networks. That’s exactly where micro-credentialing comes into play.

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An example of free HTML course that ends with micro-credentials.

Micro-credentials recognize competency via performance-based assessments. It’s no longer enough (in today’s world) to say that you know HTML. Instead you need to showcase that you’ve achieved mastery in some way. Most commonly, micro-credentials are displayed as digital badges and shared via sites like LinkedIn. As my online course relates to digital media and web authoring, I utilized a variety of sites that provide micro-credentials, such as the sites listed below.

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Another free HTML course ending with micro-credentials.

Looking Back

Looking back at my development process, I am proud to say that I saved students money, utilized open educational resources, and provided real-world relevance to the skills taught in my course.

Was it work? Yes. A lot of work the first time around. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I actually look forward to teaching this course again since all the heavy lifting has already been achieved. Additionally, I’ve grown through the process, developed new skills, and never stopped learning. I only hope that I continue to embrace the challenge of being meaningful, memorable, and motivational for my students.

Additional Resources

Astrophysics Club Field Trip

This series is part of an effort to showcase the many great employees who contribute to teaching and learning efforts at MVC.

Posted on behalf of Shahnaz Sokhansanj.


What teaching and learning opportunity recently occurred at Mountain View College (MVC)?

The Astrophysics Club took three van loads of students on a field trip to the Three Rivers Foundation (3RF) Observatory in Crowell, Texas. This was a continuation of a club tradition that began more than 15 years ago. The astrophysics club has been active for many years at Mountain View College and has been trying to engage students outside of the classroom by inviting experts in the field of physics and astronomy to campus. We encourage students to research various topics related to physics and astronomy, and to later present their research to the class. We also travel to places such as the Very Large Array telescopes in New Mexico; NASA Mission Control in Houston; Cape Canaveral in Florida; the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas; the meteor crater in Odessa, Texas; and the Three Rivers Foundation in northwest Texas. We have done each of these trips a few times. We also have monthly star parties on campus for students, MVC employees, and their families, and for the community as well.


What about this topic are you most excited about?

Physics and astronomy open the door to the beauty and order of the universe. They also can make science come alive, so that anyone can enjoy it. Science is often misunderstood by the public and is rarely as appreciated as, for example, music or the performing arts. So astronomy is a form of science that people can “relate” to and connect with, and that is what is most exciting to me as a teacher. Physics and astronomy touch upon the great mysteries of the universe. Does the universe have a beginning and an end? Why do human beings exist? We all want to know where we come from and where we are destined to go.  We want to learn about the smallest particle (or string in case of string theory)  in this world as much as we want to know what may lie at the edge of the universe. In sum, physics and astronomy help us understand who we are—morally, mentally and physically.


Why is this topic so important to everyone at MVC?

Astronomy is inherently appealing to almost everyone, both within the MVC community and outside of it, from young children to older adults. Its appeal to a wide range of people is shown by its millenia-old history in cultures from around the world. Aside from that, there are legions of dedicated amateur astronomers of all ages, from many professions, ethnic groups and genders. Astronomy brings everyone together and creates a common bond among all these people, and also creates a bond from each of these people to science itself.


What did participants learn or take away from this experience?

Because the conditions for sky observation during this trip were less than ideal, the students had to be patient and resourceful. These are traits that are absolutely necessary for any scientist and for many engineers as well. We were able to do many indoor activities, and also were able to watch the sky whenever there was a break in the weather. We were able to see the Milky Way stretched across the sky full of stars in the middle of the night, while coyotes were making noise a short distance away, probably fighting over scant prey. We visited and learned about a variety of telescopes on the 3RF campus. The trip allowed students to learn how to cope with other people in close quarters while having fun and learning at the same time. They also were able to experience a very rural area far from the urban environs of Dallas, which expanded their educational and social horizons.


What is some of the feedback you received regarding this event?

The students were very appreciative of this opportunity. They mentioned that the trip was unforgettable to them, not only from an educational standpoint. While this field trip allowed them to have fun with a group of their peers and classmates, it was also a spiritually enriching experience, as it allowed them to see all the beauty of the sky above us.


If people would like to learn more about this topic, where would you point them towards?

There are many web sites available on the field of astronomy. For example:


There are very good documentary or films on science-themed channels such as Nova and National Geographic and many others. The resources above are only a few among many. While there are many astronomy-oriented web sites, please be sure to avoid the astrology sites, because that is not what we would consider astronomy.

Faculty Spotlight: Jessica Battes-Grabowski

The Teaching & Learning Center at Mountain View College seeks to share teaching practices across the entire institution. The following article showcases a faculty member, provides insight into the environment they’ve created for MVC students, and demonstrates effective teaching practices. 

This month we showcase Professor Jessica Battes-Grabowski .


What is one element about MVC that makes it the “best college on earth?”

The students are what make MVC so special! Teaching art classes have given me the opportunity to get to know my student’s thoughts and feelings about a wide range of topics and issues. I have come to find that MVC has a fantastic student body that is focused on achieving their goals. I am also continually impressed with how friendly and thoughtful the students are at MVC.


How would your students describe you or your teaching style?

I think students would say I have a blended style of teaching because I incorporate demonstrations, multimedia presentations, activities (both individual and group), traditional lectures and class discussions. This blended style of teaching allows me to reach all students and keep them engaged with the material.


What teaching strategies do you find most successful in your courses?

I make sure to incorporate new technologies that my students are familiar with and interested in. I make sure to begin each class by stating the itinerary and goals for the class period. This helps keep students on task and aware of deadlines.


What do your students love most about your courses?

I think my students love being challenged by the projects I give, the ability to explore new ideas, techniques and the freedom to express themselves in a safe environment free from judgment. I think they enjoy a lot of freedom with their projects. I want them to bring their own experiences and interests into the course.


What is one creative solution you’ve implemented to address a specific challenge in your courses?

Students sometimes have trouble talking about their artwork. I have found that writing assignments can really help students to formulate their ideas and concepts. This exercise also helps students to present their work during the critique more clearly.


What has been your most positive or rewarding teaching experience?

Sometimes a student begins a project with a lot of self doubt and trepidation. When they overcome this fear and finish the project successfully with great pride in what they have accomplished it is extremely rewarding.

What advice would you give to a new faculty member at MVC?

Get to know you students and find out what they are interested in. This will help you incorporate new elements into your course and keep students engaged in the material.



Who is one person at MVC who has been instrumental to your success (and why)?

Professor James Behan and Cristina Medina have both been instrumental in helping me be successful at MVC. They are always there to help and answer any questions or concerns I have. Their support has been really great and I have learned a great deal from both of them.


Establishing a Human Connection in Online Courses

There is something magical about the first day of class. Everyone arrives excited about the semester ahead, there’s a buzz that can be felt around all parts of campus, and it is truly the first time you, a faculty member, are able to connect with your students. That connection, one which signals credibility, provides insight into the subject matter as a whole, and, perhaps most importantly, establishes a human connection for the entire semester, ensures that students feel connected to their learning environment. Instructors are human after all and instructor presence is an important aspect of teaching and learning.

Credibility, Insight, Connection

As I began to strategize for the first day of delivery, I wanted to ensure that I achieved all three elements stated above (credibility, insight, and connection). Teaching an online course, the challenge I face would be never actually getting to see my students in front of me. I could of course write an award winning essay that addressed these same elements, but reading alone might not be the best method to achieve the results I seek. I want each student to feel a personal connection and I believe video to be the most effective format for that purpose.


That Horrible Blinking Record Icon

As it turns out being in front of the camera is an entirely different experience than being in front of a classroom full of students. In the classroom you don’t have time to worry about your hair, if you tend to say the word “um” a few times, the pitch of your voice, or how often you tend to blink. In front of the camera however, that’s all you tend to worry about as you transition from looking at your students to looking at yourself for the duration of the video. The funny thing is, even faculty who have spent years in front of a classroom may turn camera-shy as soon as soon as that little red record light comes on. There is no escaping or ignoring that blinking red light.

Beep. Recording. Beep. Recording. Beep. Eek!


Something Magical Happens

Once you realize that you’re no longer auditioning for a lead role in the next summer blockbuster, you let your guard down just enough to appear to be a normal human being. Then something truly magical happens…you begin to smile…your sense of humor becomes apparent…and you end with a video that (although it won’t win any awards) isn’t that bad after all. Heck, you could do this every week! Kidding of course.

The end result is that, by simply creating an introductory video for your online course,  you will have established an instructional relationship with your students that encompasses all aspects of a “Community of Inquiry” model (image below). Such a video, in whatever method you use to create it, helps students feel a sense of belonging in their course (even if they’ll never actually see you in person since this is an online class after all).


Garrison, Anderson, and Archer Community of Inquiry Model

Last Steps

The last step I needed to accomplish was simply sharing the video with my students. I did this by uploading the video to YouTube publicly (I know that’s a scary idea for some instructors, but unlisting the video on YouTube or utilizing Vimeo with privacy settings fully enabled would have been other options). Once uploaded I made sure to create closed captioning (subtitles), before embedding the video in my first official welcome message within Blackboard (image below).


Additional Resources

Share Your Process

Please feel free to add your comments or suggestions in the comment box below. I’d love to learn what other instructors are doing and in turn share great ideas even further.

Faculty Spotlight: Yasmin Gulzar

The Teaching & Learning Center at Mountain View College seeks to share teaching practices across the entire institution. The following article showcases a faculty member, provides insight into the environment they’ve created for MVC students, and demonstrates effective teaching practices. 

This month we showcase Yasmin Gulzar, Professor of Computer Science.

What is one element about MVC that makes it the “best college on earth?”

Wow, this is hard to describe in “one” element but the first thing that came to my mind was diversity.  Mountain View College is full of diversity – If you look all around the campus you will see people here from all parts of the world.  But MVC is diverse in all areas; student dreams and goals, teaching and learning, in every department and in every area of MVC.  I believe that this is one of the many elements that makes MVC the “best college on earth” and sets us apart from all other campuses; we embrace all the different aspects of every culture that is unique within each area of MVC.

MVC is able to embrace diversity because of the MVC family atmosphere here on-campus, and this is one thing I like to bring into my classrooms and tell my students that you all are part of a big family here at MVC and our goal and mission is to help you succeed not only in my classroom but also in your life.  We are here for our students to help them achieve their goals and dreams!

How would your students describe you or your teaching style?

Based on the class surveys I give my students at the end of each semester, students have described me as: caring, inspirational, punctual, organized and respected. Below is some feedback I have received from my students on the class surveys:

“I really liked this class it was helpful and really fun to go too”

“One of the best teachers here at Mountain View. I really enjoyed her class.”

“Best teacher ever at MVC in my opinion. She is super nice, helps you whenever, understands that things in life happens. She is the angel among teachers.”

“The labs were VERY time consuming for me but it was a good way for me to learn. DO NOT get behind! It is a lot of work but it is not hard at all! She is very helpful. She responds to emails quickly and she would even email us every week to remind us what work was due.”

“Mrs. Gulzar is very helpful and can guide you through any problems you may have, plus she’s nice.  :)”

What teaching strategies do you find most successful in your courses?

The teaching strategies that I have found most useful in my courses are anything that get students engaged in the learning process so for me this involves:

  • Active learning & Interactive lectures – I have students get involved in the lecture by dividing them up into groups and giving them topics from the chapter readings. They are told to read through their topic, analyze what they read, and create a PPT presentation on their topic and present it to the class.  This gets students engaged in the learning process and students enjoy learning from each other. Students have always told me they like doing this because it allows them to learn and hear from their peers.
  • Discussion Strategies – students are given discussion topics to talk about at the end of lectures, discussion topics are tied into real-world examples so students can see how that chapters topics are being used in the real-world.

What do your students love most about your courses?

I teach Computer Science courses so when students come into my class they are learning about computer concepts and computer applications.  Based on what students have come back and told me and the feedback I have received on my class surveys students love working with the simulations, they like working on group projects and being able to present topics to the class.  I have had students tell me that they like being able to hear what their peers think about the topics being presented and they like listening to these things from a different perspective.  I think what they love most about these courses is that they are learning real-life skills and applications and they enjoy how the whole course ties into the real-world.

What is one creative solution you’ve implemented to address a specific challenge in your courses?

I believe getting students engaged in the classroom is a challenge I have faced and I have been able to address this challenge by utilizing group projects and interactive lectures to get students involved in the learning process. I use a lot of cooperative and active learning and apply some of the flipped classroom approach in my classes.  By doing this, students are having to read, write, analyze and create presentations as a group and then present their projects and topics to the class.  I also use a Learning Management System where students can work in a simulation environment and learn software applications being taught with a hands-on approach.

What has been your most positive or rewarding teaching experience?

The most positive and rewarding teaching experience has been to see students from my past classes come back to me and say, your class was great and what we learned in their we used in our other classes. Also, being able to link students with industry partners and to know that you are helping them achieve their goals and dreams is a rewarding experience.  We are here at MVC to help our students succeed in life and if I can help at least 1 student achieve their goal then I will feel like I have done my job well.

What advice would you give to a new faculty member at MVC?

Enjoy each and every day you have with these students, sometimes you alone are going to be there mentor, coach, advocate and support to help get them through that semester.  Working at MVC is an honor, make sure you avail opportunities to give back to the community and support MVC in all you do.  Lastly, be committed to lifelong learning, because like I tell my students in my classes, learning doesn’t end in my class or at the end of the semester, we are always learning even as Instructor’s we are always trying to find new ways to teach our students and get them engaged in our classrooms, we do this by committing ourselves to lifelong learning.

Who is one person at MVC who has been instrumental to your success (and why)?

Wow! This is a really, really tough one and it was so hard to narrow it down to one person because there have been many MVC family members who have been an inspiration to me and have helped guide me while on my journey here at MVC.

If I must pick one person then I have to say, Alex Diaz.  When I first came to MVC five years ago as an adjunct instructor, my Dean at that time, Alex Diaz, was a remarkable person who taught me to pursue my goal of full-time teaching.  I have learned so much from him, he is a dedicated person always ready to assist his students, his fellow faculty members and his division.