Online Instructor of the Year


Jessica Brennan, Professor of Child Development, and Tony Pacheco, Professor of Spanish, have been named the 2020 Online Instructors of the Year.

Tony Pacheco, 2020 Online Instructor of the Year

Tony Pacheco, 2020 Online Instructor of the Year
Jessica Brennan, 2020 Online Instructor of the Year

Jessica Brennan, 2020 Online Instructor of the Year

Jessica Brennan was a student of California Community Colleges before transferring to Mills College in Oakland to complete her BA in Psychology. Originally, Brennan had planned a degree in Child Development, but orientation day changed her path. The Child Development majors and the Psychology majors were seated at tables right beside each other, and Brennan overheard the host of the Psychology table discussing Infant Mental Health and was fascinated. “By the end of lunch, I’d changed my major to Psychology.”

Brennan would go on to complete a BA in Psychology and MA in Infant Mental Health. She would eventually move to the UK and earn her PhD in Developmental Psychology.

Brennan grew up in San Francisco, and when she was looking for next steps, she looked closed to home. She found that Modesto Junior College was hiring a Child Development instructor. Moving close to home to teach the original discipline that started her educational journey was a full-circle moment for Brennan.

Brennan has been teaching at MJC since 2018 and became a Certified Master Instructor. The course she built for the training is one she continues to teach today.

As technology evolves, Brennan has found that one of her favorite teaching tools is PlayPosit, an interactive video tool. Since videos have such an important role in online classes, Brennan was always looking for ways to ensure students were engaging with video material. In addition to keeping videos short, she tried other strategies such as hiding Easter eggs within the videos. “It wouldn’t work.” This year, Brennan has started using PlayPosit to ask questions within the video to check for student understanding. Spending so much time creating video lectures now feels worthwhile. “I know they’re watching my lectures now!” Adding in questions throughout the videos has also helped her in the process of asking herself, “What do I want students to get from this?”

In adapting to the changes 2020 has brought, Brennan has really tried to find new ways to connect with students. For Fall 2020, she’s trying out a couple of new types of Zoom sessions for her students: “Coffee with Dr. B” on Monday mornings and “Dinner with Jessica” on Tuesday evenings.

Even before coming up with these new opportunities to connect, Brennan’s students could sense her dedication:  “She is a great professor and always made sure to provide the best child development knowledge. She is also a very good person outside of her profession. She always goes above and beyond for the well-being of her students.”

Tony Pacheco was a student at Modesto Junior College in a Spanish Literature class when he realized he wanted to get a degree in Spanish. He went on to earn his Bachelor’s degree and teaching credential from California State University, Stanislaus. He would later study abroad in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Peru, and Mexico while earning his Master’s degree from California State University, Sacramento.  

Maestro Pacheco taught Spanish at the high-school level for twelve years. During his graduate studies, watching the way one professor in particular thoroughly enjoyed teaching his students is what made Maestro Pacheco realize that he could also have fun teaching adults. This pursuit brought him back to MJC to teach. He felt returning to MJC was paying it forward to the institution that he fondly credits with giving him a place to begin his college education. He became an instructor at MJC in 2009. Always looking for new goals to work toward, when he saw an opportunity for online teaching training, he leapt at it.

Maestro Pacheco’s favorite teaching moments are those when he is connecting with his students and helping them choose their next steps. He used to wonder how these connections could be fostered online. He also used to wonder where Maestro Pacheco, his teacher persona who thrives in a live classroom, would fit into the computer.

“Now it’s easy,” he says. After five years of teaching online, Maestro Pacheco continues to find ways to bring his personality into the online classroom, mainly through videos. He also communicates his presence through announcements to students and interacting with them in the course discussions.

He makes sure to be present and available to his students, and this helps him feel like he’s in the classroom. A past student says Maestro Pacheco “made you feel welcome to ask any question.”

His favorite activity for connecting with students online is when they introduce themselves at the beginning of the semester. He also considers this an important opportunity for letting students get to know him. “Right away you establish the relationship: I’m a human being.”

In the years since he started teaching, his perspective has continued to evolve. Instead of thinking about “finishing” a course, he views online teaching as a “process” that you adjust as you go.

This year’s circumstances in particular have added to his perspective. Especially in 2020, Maestro Pacheco believes online teaching and learning is for everybody. This has recently led him to work with a colleague on course revisions that keep this student experience in mind.

For Maestro Pacheco, teaching isn’t just about the content. It’s about getting to know the students and building relationships with them. It’s about connecting with them, relating to their experiences as MJC Students, and helping them realize their potential.

“I always say this with pride: I am a product of MJC.”


Nita Gopal, 2019 Online Instructor of the YearNita Gopal, 2019 Online Instructor of the Year

Nita Gopal, Professor of English, has been named the 2019 Online Instructor of the Year.

Nita grew up in a family of writers. The writings of her grandfather and granduncle as well as discussions about books with her father influenced her decision to study literature and language. As she finished her master’s degree, Gopal realized that her knowledge could be used in an environment she had grown to love—education.

Gopal started teaching at MJC in 2004, and her favorite aspect of the job is still the interaction with students, both online and face-to-face. She loves getting to meet with students and go over topics they’re struggling with for that moment when they get it, and she “sees the light in their eyes.”

Deciding to teach online came from an intrigue. Whenever Gopal discovers something she’s interested in, she deeply explores it. Her first year of teaching online made her view online learning as a baby that needed nourishing and room to grow before it would be fully fledged out.

Years later, she believes that time has come with Canvas. “Canvas just makes things absolutely the way they should be. It’s easy for the instructor. In one afternoon, I can get multiple modules ready. I can integrate so many outside apps, so easily. It’s also easy for students to find things,” she explains.

Gopal’s favorite Canvas-based tool is Announcements because “it’s the virtual version of me in front of the class speaking to them.”

Padlet is her favorite tool outside of Canvas for student interaction. Padlet is a bulletin board where students can use various types of multimedia and text to create a class collage of ideas. She uses Padlet to house student reflections at the end of the semester, and these reflections are shared with the next class of students at the beginning of the following semester.

Gopal also really enjoys using tools like VoiceThread, Flipgrid, and ConferZoom to get to hear and see her online students, and her students take notice: “This instructor makes an online class feel just as interactive as an on-campus class. I really like that she offers online office hours in addition to a lot of online lecture videos. By doing this, she allows her students to make a connection with her as a professor and not just a computer screen.” 

Gopal enjoys the challenge of finding new ways to make meaningful connections in her online courses because in her opinion, “the closeness that happens is the best thing about teaching.”



Steve Miller, 2018 Online Instructor of the YearSteve Miller, 2018 Online Instructor of the Year

Steve Miller, Professor of Political Science, has been named the 2018 Online Instructor of the Year.

Miller started teaching online courses as early as 2003 before he joined the full-time faculty at Modesto Junior College in 2005. He remembers that first online program as text-heavy, without a lot of room for student interaction. It was fall 2016 when he started teaching online with Canvas that he was introduced to a “whole other world of teaching online.” He explains, “Canvas is very user-friendly. There are a lot of different types of tools that you can use to connect with students and help teach the subject material.”

Miller likes the challenge of teaching online and finding new technologies to incorporate into his classes. One tool Miller uses in his courses is audio feedback: “I can say a lot more. It doesn’t take more time. I can talk freely and more in-depth.” His favorite tool is ConferNow, which allows him to use video conferencing to speak with students in real-time. He likes that he can use this tool to make better connections with his students as well as help them better understand Political Science.

It was a course his sophomore year that inspired Miller to pursue Political Science. He decided to teach the subject at a community college because he likes “the mission of community college as open to everybody: open access, open admissions and serving the community.”

This desire to serve the community through education is the same motivating factor that drives Miller to teach online. He likes teaching online courses because he sees them as “an even better way to help more students gain access to higher education at a lower cost.”

His students are grateful: “[Professor Miller] was understanding, always available, and provided perfectly organized instruction on what we were to do. There were no questions on when something was due, what we were to read and do each week and was very clear. He provoked original thought and to go deeper than what I normally would do, and I greatly appreciated it.”


Rob Stevenson, 2017 Online Instructor of the YearRob Stevenson, 2017 Online Instructor of the Year

Robert Stevenson, Professor of Art, Art History, and Humanities, has been named the 2017 Online Instructor of the Year. An artist, world traveler, and art history scholar, Rob is known for bringing his courses alive with beautifully narrated video tours of his traveling adventures.

Rob’s journey to online instruction began more than ten years ago. Frustrated by how difficult it was to get busy people to attend art shows, Rob sat down with fellow art appreciation professor Terry Hartman to see what Terry was doing in his online classes. “I was sold,” Rob says of the experience. “Things that I had wanted to do for a long time were possible online. We got students who we would otherwise not have been able to reach interested in art.”

Rob maintains Regular Effective Contact (REC) with his students throughout the term, starting even before day one. A week before class starts, he reaches out through email to establish contact and provide the syllabus.

As Rob explains, “I use announcements, email, and the discussion board in that first week to get them used to how I will communicate with them. I get them trying different tools right away.”

Rob makes sure to “send an email blast each week to remind them about what we’re going to be doing.”

Rob also sends reminder announcements 24 hours before assignments are due. Many students appreciate these notifications.

As one of Rob’s students explains, “I was not personally mentored one-on-one with him, but given his skill with scheduling and managing time, I feel like I received mentoring along with the entire class. He made time for all of us.”

Rob’s use of regular effective contact with his students helps make his courses unforgettable. As another student explains, “It is a great course to take, what you learn here if forever, you find a new world that sometimes is hard to see when you are in the speed of the everyday life.”

Students also appreciate his assignment feedback: “He always comments on things that I did correct and if I did anything wrong he constructively criticizes me. He is very helpful to my learning.”

Students come out of his online classes with a new appreciation not only of art history, but also of how great online instruction can be. One of the many students who nominated Rob for the Online Instructor of the Year award puts it best: Professor Stevenson “makes online learning [an] adventure through his own involvement on online. He encourages new levels of engagement and has developed a curriculum that utilizes all the opportunities of online learning. The good experience students have with him will increase their desire for online learning and their expectation of excellence.”


Amy Duffy, 2016 Online Instructor of the YearAmy Duffy, 2016 Online Instructor of the Year

Amy Duffy, Professor of Medical Assisting, has been named the 2016 Online Instructor of the Year. Amy is well known for being an online innovator. She was one of the first to move her courses to Canvas, the new learning management system for MJC. She is also a dedicated member of the Distance Education Committee and keeps the Allied Health Division well-apprised of online teaching issues.

Professor Duffy’s colleagues write, "I love how detailed, informative and concise her reports are that she sends out. She really knows her stuff and I'm sure she's a very valuable member of that committee. They are lucky to have her." Another writes that she is "one in a million...diligent, articulate, on time and kind. Who could ask for more?"

Duffy’s students praise how clearly she has organized her courses and her responsiveness to student questions. She is truly “present” in every online class she teaches. One student writes, “She has been very understanding. She is very clear on expectations and on course requirements. She had great discussion boards with issues that are so well debated that it made you think before typing in a post. She provided the perfect amount of resources to help fully understand the material.”

Another student has this to say, “Instructor Duffy does an amazing job with visual presentation for her online course. In addition, she is always available, always giving feedback on assignments, she is supper quick at grading assignments and quizzes and lastly, stays very well organized and on top of her work.”

Duffy joined the faculty of MJC in 2006 and teaches several online and face-to-face courses for the Medical Assisting Program, including Introduction to Medical Assisting, Introduction to Disease and Pharmacology, Laboratory Procedures and Medical Terminology. She is passionate about online learning and thrives as both a student and instructor in this environment. As a military family, she and her family moved 7 times in 9 years, and online education proved the perfect vehicle for both she and her husband to persevere in their educational goals. She finds online learning both challenging and compelling. She strives to continually improve her courses by including new content relevant to the ever-changing medical field and creating course activities designed to aid medical assisting students in their goal of becoming certified medical assistants. When not learning or teaching, Amy enjoys the beach, hosting family dinners, and making her award-winning Lemon Supreme Cheesecake for family and friends.


Kim Gyuran, 2015 Online Instructor of the Year Kim Gyuran, 2015 
Online Instructor of the Year

Kim Gyuran, professor of speech communication, was named the 2015 Online Instructor of the Year by Modesto Junior College during the Fall Institute Day on August 21.

In presenting this year’s award Rebecca Ganes, the 2014 Online Instructor of the Year, noted that 257 nominations were received this year, with most of them coming from students.

Gyuran was praised for her dedication to instructional excellence and outstanding efforts in building and teaching effective and engaging online communications courses.

One of Gyuran’s students wrote in her nomination, “Her course is my favorite online course by far. The teacher is present every week with weekly videos and throughout the online course, has multiple videos of herself explaining the projects or assignments in depth. I've never felt confused or lost in this course. I've known exactly what to do, and every week has been easy to follow. You can tell that she puts in a lot of work into her online class and tries to make it easy to follow as well as enjoyable for her students.”

Gyuran joined the faculty of MJC in 1994 and teaches both online and classroom communications courses, including online Intercultural Communication classes, and Storytelling and Group and Organizational Communications in a classroom format.

Another student nomination noted, “It's like having a professor and cheerleader in one.”


Rebecca Ganes, 2014 Online Instructor of the Year Rebecca Ganes, 2014
Online Instructor of the Year

Professor Rebecca Ganes is the 2014 Online Instructor of the Year. Professor Ganes, a Central Valley native who attended Merced College as a re-entry student before finishing her master's degree in Psychology from Stanislaus State University, began teaching psychology at MJC in 1991.

Becky started teaching online course about five years ago, and when asked what attracted her to the online world, she said "it was the flexibility at first, but I discovered I can connect with students more personally online than on campus where I teach large lectures. When I am online, I can reach every student."

Becky soon realized that online teaching is a 24/7 job and is much more work than teaching on campus. She says it's worth it though because "I enjoy finding ways to create online assignments that can meet or exceed the rich experience of on-campus assignments." She finds that online students tend to use technology in creative ways to express themselves, including with video. "I could not do the number of interactive activities on campus as I do online," Becky says.

Becky keeps her courses lively by making Facebook an option and keeping her students engaged with different types of activities, such as volunteering to be subjects in online research projects. One of her students wrote, "She created a dynamic, interactive teaching environment where she seemed accessible and virtually present the entire semester. Her assessment plan was flawless; every single reading correlated with meaningful assignments in the course."

As a former re-entry entry student herself, Becky knows that online courses give students educational opportunities they would not have without it: "It was an experience that helped me understand our [MJC] students. I had kids and the whole bit." As the 2014 Online Instructor of the Year, Professor Rebecca Ganes does everything she can to make her students' online experiences rich and rewarding.

A student nominator wrote of Ganes, “The professor is so enthusiastic in her work if not more than enthusiastic because it seems that she's always online, always there to respond to our questions and very organized.”