League for Innovation Excellence AwardsA veteran chemistry instructor, the chief of custodial operations and a crew of dedicated Outreach workers from De Anza College have earned awards for excellence from a national academic group, the League for Innovation in the Community College.
At a March 15 ceremony in San Francisco, league officials presented awards to De Anza’s Ram Subramaniam, chair of the chemistry department; Manny DaSilva, manager of custodial operations; and the staff of the Office of Outreach and Relations With Schools.
The annual John and Suanne Roueche Excellence Awards are given for outstanding contributions in teaching, leadership and service.
Ram Subramaniam was a first-generation college student who earned his undergraduate degree from Birla Institute of Technology and Science, in northern India, and his doctorate in chemistry from the University of Kentucky. He’s been teaching at De Anza since 2008, and says he was drawn to the college by the chance to inspire a diverse student population in a field that’s historically been more homogeneous.
Subramaniam has researched abnormalities in brain membrane proteins as a means to understand Alzheimer’s disease, and has done post-doctoral work on the cellular processes in diabetes. He’s also interested in the intersection of science and social values. This year, some of his students have been researching various government offices and their role in carrying out science policy.
“The opportunity to interact with and support the curious minds of our students has always inspired me to pursue excellence,” Subramaniam said.
Subramaniam has been active in campus leadership and governance, serving on the Curriculum Committee, Academic Senate and College Council.
He co-chaired the General Education Steering Committee in 2013-14 and, while on professional development leave in 2014-15, developed an online laboratory manual for students in the general chemistry program. He chaired the Chemistry Department in 2012-13 and holds that position again this year.
Manny DaSilva, who has been running custodial operations at De Anza for the last nine years, says a clean, safe environment is critical for learning.
DaSilva traces his passion for excellence to his previous career, when he served in the U.S. Army’s 2nd Battalion, 75th Infantry Rangers. That’s when, he said, “I learned that anything less than excellence is not acceptable, and that words like ‘can’t do’ and ‘no’ are the language of defeatism.”
DaSilva says he’s kept that attitude in civilian life. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business psychology from Palo Alto University while working full-time in his position, and a Facilities Management Certificate from APPA, a professional association for physical plant administrators.
“Watching our students graduate, and knowing these young women and men will be our future leaders, gives me a sense of satisfaction because I know that my team-mates and I had a part in creating their environment.”
The Office of Outreach and Relations With Schools plays an essential role in De Anza's effort to build a diverse student body, while promoting access and success for all students.
Led by Rob Mieso, associate vice president of Student Services, the Outreach staff members draw on their academic and professional training -- and life experience -- to connect with prospective students and their families, particularly those from underserved and underrepresented communities.
“Being able to connect to different resources on campus allowed me to be successful,” said Jesus Ruelas, a De Anza graduate and Karl S. Pister scholarship winner, who’s now an academic adviser in the office. “I feel connected to the community here, so now I try to fill that same role for others.”
“A lot of us (on the Outreach staff) are first-generation college students and so, for us, it’s kind of giving back to the community,” added counselor Erick Aragon. “We’re always in the schools, working with students that may not have a trajectory toward college.”
During the last academic year, the office held 200 outreach events, serving over 12,000 students in 38 high schools. Team members also organized four conferences that brought more than 1,300 high school students to the De Anza College campus, along with the annual New Student and Parent Open House, which attracted more than 3,000 students and parents in the spring.
A big part of that effort involves being approachable, said counselor Umar Douglas. “We do a little extra to make students feel like they’re stepping into a space where it’s like their older brothers and older sisters are here – as opposed to just being their counselors.”
“We understand there are a lot of challenges and barriers for students, who may not have thought about going to college, to actually take the initiative to come here,” added Erika Flores, student success program coordinator.
The outreach effort extends to parents, who may not have gone to college themselves, said Nubia Sanchez, school relations specialist. “It’s important that parents see their students in college and know their students belong here,” she said.
Outreach staffers also works with students after they’ve enrolled at De Anza, helping them with access to academic advising and counseling, education planning, peer mentoring and a food pantry for low-income students.
“I like that we get to help students in need. I was one, so that’s important to me,” said Ambrocine Rodriguez, administrative assistant. “I’m the first person most students see when they walk in our office. So I want to make sure they feel like their voices are heard, and that their issues can be solved in this office.”
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