Nale, Gusaas recognized with Faculty of Year Awards in Leadville
One educator teaches biology, the other ski area operations. But no matter what the subject matter, both Virginia “Jenna” Nale and Jason Gusaas of Colorado Mountain College’s campus in Leadville have earned Faculty of the Year accolades for their abilities to connect and inspire their students.
Each year, the students, staff and faculty of Colorado Mountain College nominate one outstanding adjunct and one full-time faculty member fr
om each of CMC’s seven campuses and the college’s online learning department. From those honorees, senior administrators then select a collegewide award recipient in each of the two categories.
This year in Leadville, science educator Nale has been singled out as the outstanding adjunct faculty member, and Gusaas has received the full-time Faculty of the Year Award for his work teaching ski area operations.
‘An uncanny way of inspiring students’
Nale is no stranger to community college education. Although she has only been teaching biology, as well as anatomy and physiology, at the college since 2012, before coming to Colorado she spent 17 years teaching at the University of New Mexico’s branch campus in both part- and full-time capacities.
Early on, Nale’s transition from researcher at the University of New Mexico Medical School to educator was natural to her.
“I soon realized that teaching was my passion [since it] allowed me to interact one-to-one with students striving to achieve both their personal and professional goals through education,” said Nale.
Jonathan King, Ph.D., interim vice president for CMC in Leadville and Buena Vista, has witnessed Nale’s unique knack for reaching her students.
“Not only is she knowledgeable about the scientific subjects that she teaches,” said King, “but she has an uncanny way of inspiring students from non-scientific backgrounds to want to learn the material, no matter how complex it may be.”
One of Nale’s students from a science course in 2013 confirmed King’s synopsis in a written teacher evaluation.
“This course has difficult and extensive subject matter,” the student wrote. “Jenna truly helped us navigate it by presenting the material in multiple ways. Excellent instructor!”
“Jenna is passionate about her work,” added Lydia Brubaker, the campus’s assistant coordinator of student life. “She understands how to break down complex subjects for students while still holding them to a high standard.”
Nale points to others, however, for her teaching successes. She said she is thankful to Terresa Herbst, CMC instructional chair, for giving her the opportunity to teach at the college. And she thanks her students.
“Much of my success is reflected in the great attitude and tremendous efforts made by the students at CMC,” she said. “I have always felt extremely fortunate to be able to combine my love of biology and teaching into a successful and fulfilling career.”
‘Surrounded by students’
In 2009, Gusaas shifted from a full-time career in the ski industry to working full time as a ski area operations educator at CMC’s Leadville campus. He got his start building a ski area from the ground up while he was attending college in Bismarck, N.D.
“I’ve worked in the industry ever since, from an entry-level snowcat operator to a consultant in the industry nationwide,” Gusaas said.
In addition, his work as the terrain parks and halfpipe foreman at Copper Mountain and at Planet Snow Design, building parks and pipes across the country, translated into teaching students about the many facets of the ski business.
CMC student John Bennett was one of those who nominated Gusaas for the campus full-time Faculty of the Year Award. He has seen firsthand the kind of educator that Gusaas is.
“He is one of the best occupational trainers I have ever observed,” wrote Bennett in his nomination. “He exemplifies a high level of patience when training our students in the field. And at lunchtime, when other instructors are eating amongst their peers in the cafeteria, Jason is surrounded by students, many of whom come to him for advice and mentoring.”
King, the interim vice president for CMC in Leadville and Buena Vista, understands the value of Gusaas’ calm, knowledgeable demeanor and presence, as well.
“First and foremost, Jason is nationally recognized for his expertise in the field of ski area operations,” King said. “Under Jason’s leadership, our students have had no problems landing jobs when they graduate from CMC. He sets high standards for his students, and patiently trains them to become the best in the ski industry. He is a big asset to our college.”
“I really enjoy pointing students in the right direction as they enter the industry, and seeing how excited they are to pursue their dreams,” said Gusaas.