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Five from college district earn national award for excellence

Posted on: Feb 27, 2019 12:00:00 AM
In: District, Cuyamaca, Grossmont
Campus Life, Academics
Contact: Della Elliott

Three instructors and two managers from the East County community college district are recipients of a national award recognizing excellence in community college teaching and leadership.

Cuyamaca College instructor Donald Jones, Grossmont College instructors Oralee Holder and Richard Uris, and District Services managers Linda Bertolucci and Jennifer Fujimoto were honored today at the 2019 Innovations Conference in New York City, which drew community college representatives from across the United States.

The John and Suanne Roueche Excellence Award is from the League for Innovation in the Community College, an international nonprofit consortium of community colleges and their districts, and 160 corporate partners. Launched in 2012, the award is named for John E. and Suanne D. Roueche, leaders in the community college field and academic scholars who wrote dozens of books and hundreds of articles about community college leadership.

“I could not be more proud of our outstanding team of community college standouts whose dedication and creative minds reflect the vision of the League for Innovation,” said Cindy L. Miles, chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, and former chief operating officer for the League. “Their tireless work to promote the success of our students and colleges is immensely valued and the recognition for their efforts is richly deserved.”

Linda Bertolucci

As a community college alum, Linda Bertolucci understands the life-changing impact that the two-year institutions have and finds fulfillment in her work as the senior director of Purchasing, Contracts and Ancillary Services in the district services office.

As the administrator overseeing the district’s purchasing and contracts and warehouse departments, as well as managing the bidding process for major construction projects at the colleges, Bertolucci keeps a laser focus on district expenditures and purchases. While her contact with students may be minimal, they are never far from her mind.

The departments she oversees provide the materials, supplies, equipment and contracted services that benefit and provide students with a positive learning environment. The construction contracts for college facilities, classroom desks and chairs, the myriad of computer equipment and even the light bulbs, require Bertolucci’s imprimatur.

“It puts it all into perspective when we visit a new building or a renovated classroom knowing that we were an important part in the project and we can then see it through the eyes of the students and employees and know we contributed to the betterment of the students,” she said.

The 14-year employee of the district, who attended El Camino College in Torrance as a paralegal student, started her career in 1987 as the purchasing supervisor at Sweetwater Union High School District. She then moved on to the Grossmont Union High School District, where she was the purchasing director for 16 years before she was hired by the college district.

 “I am honored to receive this award, but I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my entire team for their hard work and dedication and making the district such a stellar place,” she said.

Jennifer Fujimoto

As the senior director of Fiscal Services, it is Jennifer Fujimoto’s role to manage accounts payables and receivables, and to handle the accounting and internal reporting for students’ financial aid.

Fujimoto’s office is in an annex building, away from the central campus where the classrooms and students are. But while she has no direct contact with students, her job tracking and disbursing financial aid touches the lives of many of the 30,000 attending Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges.

With more than 25 years of experience in accounting, Fujimoto can spot an errant math calculation a mile away and it is her knack for numbers that motivated her to switch careers from hospitality management to bookkeeping in 2003.  She started her own bookkeeping business, and in 2011, was hired to manage accounting and office operations for the college district’s auxiliary.

In 2013, she became a financial analyst for the college district. She was promoted to her current post in 2016, when she helped implement two major projects to streamline fiscal operations: Workday, a cloud-based application for finance and human resources, and BankMobile, an electronic method to disburse students’ financial aid.

A cum laude graduate of the University of Wisconsin, with a Bachelor of Science in business/hospitality, Fujimoto started a career in hotel management in 1989, eventually leaving the profession in 2002.

Playing a role in ensuring student success is important to Fujimoto, who said spending her days with people sharing that common goal is immensely satisfying.

“There are so many of us that work to make the college district a student-focused place,” she said. “I really want to express my appreciation for my staff, who were so instrumental in my receiving this award of excellence.”

Donald Jones

The past five years have been an exciting time for Jones, leading the transformation of Cuyamaca College’s Water and Wastewater Technology program into the Center for Water Studies, replete with a new state-of-the-art training facility and an outdoor field operations skills yard for students to develop hands-on skills. It is a fully functional water and wastewater system built above ground for easy access to the pipes, valves and tanks that students become adept at handling.

 “With these unparalleled facilities, comprehensive curricula and experienced faculty, we feel that our Center for Water Studies is a flagship program, not only in the California Community College system, but in the western states,” Jones said.

It was 42 years ago that Jones began his career in the water industry, eventually running the San Diego Water Department’s safety and training program and becoming the safety and risk manager for the Vista Irrigation District in the mid-1990s until retiring in 2007. Over the years, he also continued his education, earning an associate degree from Grossmont College; a bachelor’s degree and graduate courses in Public Administration from San Diego State University, and a master’s degree in Human Resources and Organization from the University of San Francisco.

Jones was also active on the education front, developing the Water and Wastewater Technology program at Mesa College during the late ‘70s. He has worked with the program at Cuyamaca College since 2003, where he helped secure more than $2 million in grant funding and partnered with local agencies to make the Cuyamaca program a key to training the next generation of water industry professionals.

Oralee Holder

Holder is well known for her long history of campus leadership since she became a part-time instructor at Grossmont College in 1985. She joined the ranks of full-time faculty in 1990 and has served as Academic Senate president, and for the last 12 years, as chair of the English Department. Since 2013, Holder has worked to improve assessment and placement of thousands of students in English classes.

After graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in English from California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, the San Diego native earned her master’s degree in English from Southern Illinois University and her doctorate, also in English, from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

She was hired in 1979 at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., where she taught literature and composition until 1985, when a death in her family brought her back to San Diego for what she thought was a temporary leave of absence. Familyowev obligations made the move permanent, and although her university colleagues were somewhat skeptical that she would find teaching community college students a satisfying career shift, Holder said they could not have been more wrong.

 “It was readily apparent that I could make a difference in the lives of our students at Grossmont College, many of whom had never imagined college in their futures and who would be facing innumerable obstacles to their success,” she said. “There was no college-going tradition in my family. Because I had doubted my own worthiness to be a student, let alone to flourish and succeed, I knew the fear and anxiety many of my students faced.”

Richard Unis

A professional photographer, as well as an adjunct sociology instructor at Grossmont College for  12 years, Richard Unis understands the power of visual images to convey political or social messages.

In 2008, he had students create a public art installation of 30,000 chopsticks inserted into lawns around the campus to represent the number of children who lose their lives each day to poverty-related diseases.  Last year, he launched the Stand with Students Project, a social media campaign for educators and others to post photos of themselves standing next to a white or blackboard with a handwritten message of inclusion for immigrant, refugee and DACA students.

The New Jersey native, the oldest of four brothers and the first to go to college, earned his bachelor’s degree from Ithaca College and a master’s in sociology from the London School of Economics and Political Science. The sociology department had a human rights component to it that led Unis to Geneva, where he and others in his class served as student representatives at the United Nations in 2005. That experience exposed him to global issues that he and his wife, a fellow sociologist, have documented as photographers. A collection of photos they took for a local non-profit promoting the need for adequate healthcare was displayed inside the Capitol Building just prior to the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act.

 “What I like best about Grossmont is the students,” he said. “Our students are dedicated, well-intentioned and often bring perspective and experience into the classroom, which makes teaching sociology interesting and rewarding.”






Bertolucci and fujimotoLinda Bertolucci, left, and Jennifer Fujimoto


Don Jones at Center for Water StudiesDonald Jones Oralee HolderOralee Holder

Richard UnisRichard Unis

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