GRCC’s Excellence in Education Awards were established in 1989 to honor GRCC employees, nominated by their peers, for their contributions to the college, higher education, and the community. The three winners of the 2014 awards have different areas of expertise but are equally inspired to put in their own time to make sure students reach their full potential
Tom Neils, a chemistry professor in GRCC’s physical sciences department is the winner of this year’s Faculty Award. Neils, who began teaching at GRCC in 1994, is known for arriving early, staying late and coming in on his days off to give students every opportunity to ask questions, complete labs and learn concepts. One colleague noted that Neils serves as a “recruiter” for science, working to spark an interest in the subject through his service at STEM events; summer science camps at Calvin College, MLK Academy and the University of Michigan’s Center for Engineering Diversity Outreach; and weekly meetings of the Science Club that he has helped start at City Middle School. Tom has developed relationships with the chemistry departments at Hope College and Grand Valley State University that have given more than 40 GRCC students the opportunity to conduct paid summer scientific research at those institutions. He also leads GRCC’s chemical technology program, which prepares students to work in chemical industries.
Mary Beth O’Rourke, an adjunct instructor in the physical sciences department, received the Adjunct Award. O’Rourke has taught courses in chemistry, physics, physical science and math during her 19 years as an adjunct instructor at GRCC. She often stays late to give students time to complete tests and laboratory activities. But she also spends much of her time working with her colleagues to find innovative ways to bring science education to students, exploring new lab assignments and introducing technology. Mary Beth spent two days a week this summer helping to create a series of online labs for a physical science course.
Mary Kay Bethune, a customer service manager in the financial aid office, is the winner of the Staff Award. As a customer service manager in financial aid, Bethune often sees students and their families who are panicked and overwhelmed by the process. Combining persistence and compassion, she is known by colleagues as a “troubleshooter extraordinaire” who works tirelessly to connect students to the resources they need to help them reach their goals.
In addition to training GRCC staff on the many changes in financial aid, Bethune works to “de-mystify” the process for students and the community. She presents workshops for GRCC departments as well as for community organizations, including Bethany Christian Services and area women’s shelters. Mary Kay has worked on development of the My Financial Aid webpage and the Information Station, a series of videos guiding students and parents through various processes.
Congratulations to all three winners of the 2014 Excellence in Education Awards!