Going above and beyond is second nature to engineering professor Dr. Connie Gomez. Whether it's staying late to offer tutoring, making time to mentor students, collaborating with other faculty to secure national grant funding for continued student research projects, or driving a College bus full of students to NASA Johnson Space Center, it's no surprise why Gomez was named San Jacinto College's 2019-2020 Mini Stevens Piper nominee.
Since 1958, The Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation has recognized outstanding professors from two- and four-year colleges and universities, both public and private. As a non-profit, charitable corporation, one of its biggest programs is the Piper Professor Program. Ten awards of $5,000 are distributed annually to college professors for superior teaching. Nominations are based on submissions by each college or university in the state of Texas.
"This is such an incredible honor," said Gomez. "All of our faculty do outstanding work and support our students as much as we can. I'm honored to be nominated and am lucky to work with such amazing peers whom I learn from as well."
Providing students with unique research opportunities is something Gomez is constantly curating. One of the College's annual STEM program highlights is the Undergraduate Research Symposium. The event allows STEM students to present their research to faculty, staff, students, and local educational and industry experts. Providing these opportunities is just one way Gomez strives to prepare her engineering students, tailoring the project, teams, and research methods to the students' needs.
"Our Undergraduate Research Center provides students with a space to conduct their research and collaborate on other research projects so that they get university-level research experience at a community college," she said. "We know that a lot of our students are commuter students, so the traditional research and internship work experiences don't work for them. They have to work to afford tuition, in addition to their other life necessities, so a lot of our STEM faculty want to provide our students with opportunities to gain actual STEM research experience they can list on their resumes. Most of our faculty have research projects that our students assist with, while others offer literature research, which is crucial to the entire process. These students also present their research, which allows them to hone in on their public speaking and presentation skills which will help them excel as professionals in their chosen STEM career fields."
Gomez also values mentorship and collaboration, giving back whenever and however she can. To date, she has mentored more than 50 students and 14 adjunct professors with no desire to stop any time soon. She frequently visits local high schools to give presentations on what the College's engineering program has to offer and what kinds of career opportunities are available in the engineering field. She is also involved in ongoing research collaborations with six other institutions for the joint partnership Wheels of Change grant awarded from the U.S. Department of Agriculture which provides research opportunities for agricultural engineering sustainability.
"At the end of the day, it's so rewarding when I hear former students tell me how prepared they felt for their university engineering programs and the kinds of research, internship, and job opportunities they're getting. That tells me we're doing something right. We're preparing the next generation of innovators while we continue to be leaders in STEM education."
In addition to the annual Mini Stevens Piper nominee, the College also has annual faculty and staff Excellence Awards. The 2019-2020 Excellence Awards recipients are: