CMC Rifle campus names full-time, adjunct Faculty of the Year
Bob Von Achen, instructor of English and literature at Colorado Mountain College in Rifle, went into teaching because he knew he would enjoy the analytical components – reading papers, employing his editing skills and offering textual insights. But within two weeks of classroom teaching, he found that it was engaging with students which gave him the deepest satisfaction.
“It’s gratifying to be able to make a real difference in people’s lives,” said Von Achen, shortly after he’d been notified he’d been named the campus’s full-time Faculty of the Year. “Not everyone in every profession gets to have that privilege. And it is a privilege.”
According to Von Achen’s colleagues and students, the privilege is theirs. “His sunny personality and dedication to continuous improvement for himself, his work and our team make working with Bob a true joy,” said Dr. Barbara K.V. Johnson, who has recently shifted from being a campus instructional chair to being director of teacher education.
Similar accolades earned Von Achen’s colleague, Shauna Kocman, the Rifle campus adjunct Faculty of the Year Award. “She’s committed to her students and their ability to learn,” said Johnson. “She is always looking for new ways to engage students in the learning process and to help them connect their current needs with future goals.”
Every year, each of Colorado Mountain College’s seven campuses, as well as the college’s department of online learning, can nominate adjunct and full-time instructors for the Faculty of the Year Award. From those honorees, senior administrators then select a collegewide award recipient in each of the two categories.
Von Achen’s passion for written word inspires students to strive for excellence
Von Achen primarily teaches writing courses, including concurrent enrollment offerings in the high school. One of his foremost goals is to help students master the tools. To that end, he stresses grammar, punctuation and structure – topics that have the potential to make a lot of students yawn or bolt.
But because Von Achen presents grammar and structure as tools to expand creativity, he creates a learning atmosphere that invites students to see the essentials as building blocks, not road blocks.
“I bring a big roller tool bag to work,” Von Achen laughed. “To me, it fits with the metaphor of building sentences, as opposed to writing sentences. If students can write and rewrite a sentence five different ways, they can develop style and a voice.
“Language is an invention, a tool,” he said. And mastering the tools leads to better critical thinking, more confidence, and the freedom to expand and play with writing styles and structures, he explained. “Grammar is the doorway to style. It’s like jazz music. You have to know how to keep time to bend it.”
Von Achen credits his students with being willing to engage with the material, and with teaching life lessons that go beyond the classroom. “I draw a lot of strength from the diversity of my students’ backgrounds, objectives and personal situations,” he said. “I recently had a couple of veterans who have served overseas. It’s amazing the perspective they bring to class. They’ve had a powerful impact, not just on the other students, but on me as the instructor.”
Von Achen loves teaching writing, not just because he’s devoted to the subject, but because the skills imparted can help empower students in any discipline. “Writing is such a core skill and so transferable to every aspect of their lives,” he said. “One of the most gratifying experiences of working at CMC is that we’re serving students who really benefit from the skills we teach.”
Kocman combines high expectations with online materials, compassionate support
Kocman, named Rifle’s adjunct Faculty of the Year, was so surprised to learn she’d won the honor that she didn’t believe it at first. “I guess I was surprised because I’m so tough,” she said. “I have a reputation for being a difficult teacher.”
Kocman teaches process technology, which introduces students to working in industrial settings. She’s also teaching an environmental health and safety class through the integrated energy program.
She admits her reputation is well earned. “I’m strict about deadlines, and stress to my students that they need to really master the material,” she said. She also provides an array of resources to help make sure they succeed.
Online materials include more detailed explanations of class topics as well as links to resources to help students write research papers and pursue career development opportunities. “My goal is to help them succeed in their careers, their lives and their educations,” she said.
“The job market is very competitive,” she said. “I stress to my students the importance of highly valuable qualifications like education, technical writing abilities and process technology skills.”
Kocman has taught at the college for just over two years and says she continues to learn how to teach more effectively every semester. Winning Faculty of the Year was “a great honor,” she said.