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Top Md., Va. profs hail from community colleges

By Daniel de Vise

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education has named its 2010 U.S. Professors of the Year, and two of three local winners come from community colleges.

The awards program, created in 1981, is "the only national initiative specifically designed to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring," according to a release.

Maryland's winner is Deborah Stearns, a psychology professor at Montgomery College since 2002. She has taught courses ranging from general psychology to human sexuality and women's studies.

From a college release:

"She is founder and organizer of the Psychology Brown Bag Series, a popular discussion series in which students, faculty and staff come together to discuss topics ranging from emotional intelligence to the cultural messages of hip-hop music. She is extensively involved with the Women's Studies Student Group and the People's Alliance Club, where she provides support and mentorship to students, fosters their leadership skills and creates an ongoing campus dialogue about issues of gender and sexuality."

Virginia's winner is James Patrick O'Brien, a psych professor at Tidewater Community College.

A faculty page says O'Brien has taught psychology at Tidewater for 35 years.

"Working with several teams of students since 1998, he debunked the long-standing view of social psychology that women conform more than men in response to group pressure," it says. "The research teams have presented their developing empirical findings several times to the Virginia Academy of Science, and O'Brien has made presentations to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association for Psychological Science and the Virginia Psychological Association."

The District's winner is Rahul Simha, a computer science professor at George Washington University.

A release says Simha "first came to GW as a visiting professor in 1998 on a sabbatical from the College of William and Mary. When his sabbatical ended, he decided to stay at GW."

The release states he has worked to "revamp and divsersify" the university's undergraduate curriculum in computer science, and excels at persuading students to "stick with" a program that "can be intimidating and complex."

"I tell my students that they're not going to 'get it' in one day," he is quoted as saying. "And they're not going to feel like they're making progress for a while. It's similar to how musicians feel when they're first learning to play an instrument. But I tell them that anyone can learn these skills."

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By Daniel de Vise  | November 18, 2010; 1:24 PM ET
Tags:  CASE professors year, Deborah Stearns, George Washington University, Montgomery College, Rahul Simha, TCC O'Brien, Tidewater Community College, professors of the year  
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