Matt FurmanskiAssociate Professor of Art, Sculpture
Associate Professor of Art Matt Furmanski likes to tell his students to “be a dilettante” and “solve a non-problem.” It’s not because he has low expectations – just the opposite.
“When you’re a dilettante, you’re an amateur who’s free to experiment,” Furmanski said. “Many times dilettantes make insightful discoveries because they don’t know any better.”
An internationally known sculptor whose art has been exhibited in museums, galleries and public spaces, Furmanski leads students by example. One of his favorite sculptures, “Dilettante,” is a working jet engine that he built from scrap metal parts using engineering knowledge he picked up on the Internet.
“I love encouraging students to explore the directions they can go with art,” he said. “I want them to see it as a process of research and experimentation.”
Furmanski exposes students to experiences ranging from primitive welding and hammering to Web and computer-aided design. He also leads them in projects where they serve the community and cultivate skills that can be applied in future careers.
In one course, his students transformed an old Volkswagen Beetle into a blue whale heart that serves as a children’s play sculpture at Catalina Island Marine Institute. In another, students taught weekly art lessons to underprivileged children. Last semester, they built a 3D printer that turns digital designs into solid, threedimensional objects.
“Students who come to my class will understand the fundamentals of aesthetics and how things are structured, even if they’re not going to be artists,” he said. “If I can make a better dentist, then that’s what I’m going to do.”
Terry BallmanProfessor of Spanish, Chair of Spanish & Languages and Communication Programs, Special Assistant to the Provost
Dr. Terry Ballman is occasionally greeted with skepticism when Latino students realize that their Spanish professor is not a native speaker. But the skepticism evaporates after just a few minutes in her class.
“When they realize that I’ve dedicated my life to studying and championing their language and culture, they open right up,” she said.
In fact, Ballman is a champion for students in general. She’s spent the last decade ensuring they get proper support to succeed and graduate.
Sometimes that means tough love. Students in the Spanish program receive a written set of expectations on how to be successful, including professional ways to address classmates and professors. Students who start an email with the salutation, “Hey, Terry,” receive a polite response asking them to rewrite their message.
“Many students have come back and thanked me because they've realized that they are learning skills that will serve them even after their CI experience,” she said.
She also examines what the University does to ensure that students receive the support they need to graduate. That includes encouraging faculty to meet one-on-one with students early in the semester and provide early grades and feedback, so students who are struggling can get help before it’s too late.
“I’m not here to teach them Spanish. I’m here to teach them to be successful in life,” she said.
Phil HamptonProfessor of Chemistry, Director of Project ACCESO
Dr. Phil Hampton embraces the label “science geek.”
“Science geeks are the people who will help keep this nation moving forward as a global leader and innovator,” Hampton said. And Hampton is at the forefront of the movement to encourage and educate them. In addition to teaching chemistry, mentoring students and supervising student research, he has created programs to excite kids about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) long before they reach a university.
Hampton organizes regular events for Ventura County K-12 schools, introducing kids to STEM learning and careers by showing them that science is fun. He holds a free annual Science Carnival that last year hosted more than 1,500 children and their parents for science activities disguised as play. With his colleague Sandra Birmingham, he created an afterschool program pairing CI STEM students with fourth and fifth graders to conduct handson experiments. And he led the charge enabling CI to secure a nearly $6 million federal Hispanic Serving Institution-STEM grant for Project ACCESO (Achieving a Cooperative College Education through STEM Opportunities), which funds on-campus support for STEM students, as well as expanded community and school outreach programs.
“The most fulfilling part of my work at CI is having the opportunity to build new programs that make a difference on campus and in the community,” said Hampton. “In my former life at a Research 1 University, the only thing that mattered was how many publications you had and how many grants were funded. Here at CI, the emphasis is on students, where it should be.”
Paul MurphyLecturer in Music
It happens each semester. Throngs of hip-hop and rap-music-loving students enter Dr. Paul Murphy’s classes on jazz, world music, The Beatles and the History of Rock and declare the music “old-fashioned” or “boring.”
“By the end of the class, they almost always say, ‘Thank you for turning me on to other types of music I never would have listened to,’” he said.
A veteran professional guitarist, composer and arranger who has worked on films, television and theatre and toured internationally, Murphy is happiest in the classroom.
“I love developing courses from scratch and using music as a doorway to teach students about history, culture, politics, geography, society and religion,” Murphy said.
His students have enjoyed in-class performances in styles ranging from jazz and rock to Celtic and flamenco, as well as Q&A with Grammy Awardwinning artists.
Murphy also shares performances with the community. He recently organized a free outdoor concert by a Beatles tribute band and is planning a CI 10th anniversary concert for the spring.
“We live an hour away from one of the greatest music cities in the world,” he said. “It would be a shame not to share that with CI and the surrounding community.”
Kaia TollefsonAssociate Professor of Education, Project Vista Director
In 30 years as an educator, Dr. Kaia Tollefson has been a teacher, a principal, and a faculty member at several universities. But it’s her background as a first-generation college student that helps inform much of her work at CI.
“Foremost among those things for which I’m most grateful is the opportunity to serve people who sacrifice a lot to be a CI student,” Tollefson said. “To be in a position now to help other first-generation students feel more at home and entitled to the learning opportunities that come with having earned a place in higher education is huge for me.”
After spending the last six years at CI educating teachers, Tollefson is heading Project Vista, a CI initiative to increase enrollment, graduation and success of underrepresented students in graduate and postbaccalaureate programs. The project is funded by a five-year, $2.8 million U.S. Department of Education Title V grant.
The grant supports a campus Graduate Studies Center, mentoring and career development services, research opportunities and internships, and studies of graduate and postbac students’ needs. Tollefson also helped initiate a study for a campus family and childcare center – a plan she hopes to make a reality so more working parents can achieve their educational goals at CI.
As an advocate for CI’s graduate student population – nearly 9 percent of current enrollment – Tollefson is helping the University fulfill its aims of making graduate education more attractive and attainable, and also paving the way for CI to increase its graduate and postbaccalaureate program offerings in the coming years.
Marie FrancoisProfessor of History, Director of University Experience
Dr. Marie Francois has dedicated her career to the education and empowerment of underrepresented and first-generation students.
“I see what assets these young people bring to their own education and our collective futures – strengths like intercultural competencies, multiple language fluencies, strong community and family commitments, and experience overcoming adversity,” she said. “Unfortunately, these assets are not always recognized by society or at universities.”
Francois is working to change that. As a Professor of History, former Chair of the History program, and the first Chair of the Chicana/o Studies program, she developed courses exposing students to the world, its history and broad cultural and gender perspectives, as well as service-learning experiences in places from local museums to shelters and food banks.
As an author and expert in Mexican, Latin American, gender and world history, she meticulously researches and deals with topics ranging from the cultural history of housekeeping to the Mexican Revolution.
Most recently, as Director of University Experience, she’s overseeing development of core seminars that deliver on CI’s mission of multicultural-, experience- and servicebased learning. She works to ensure underrepresented students succeed and graduate through the creation of peerled learning groups and workshops and webinars for faculty and staff. The work is funded as Project ISLAS through a $3.5 million federal grant awarded to CI as a Hispanic Serving Institution.
“Professor Francois is a genuinely open, caring person who dedicates all her energy and time to helping students of all backgrounds gain access to education,” said student Stephanie Garcia.
Priscilla LiangAssociate Professor of Finance
Before her academic career, Dr. Priscilla Liang worked in international business, where she often saw American colleagues struggling to understand the Asian ways of doing business.
“I often thought that they could have been more successful if their college education had given them a more worldly view,” said Liang, a native of China.
Now an Associate Professor of Finance at CI, Liang helps students acquire the skills and confidence to succeed in today’s highly globalized and ultra-competitive business environment.
She teaches undergraduate and graduate business and finance courses that cross disciplines and cultures to give students a global perspective. Her research focuses on financial markets, instruments and policies in emerging markets, especially in the Asian Pacific region.
“CI’s small class size allows me to help my students at a personal level,” Liang said. “Though we are a public institution, our students get as much attention to facilitate their learning as if they were in an expensive private university.”
As the internship coordinator for the Martin V. Smith School of Business & Economics, Liang builds ties with businesses throughout the region like Amgen, Ojai Oil Company and Sony Pictures Television, to help students gain real life business experience and acquire skills vital to the region’s employers and economy.
“With the help of our community business partners, CI will continue to play a key role in training and educating a prosperous workforce in Ventura County,” Liang said.
Virgil Adams IIIAssociate Professor of Psychology, Chair of the Psychology Program
Every semester, Dr. Virgil Adams tells his students that “the next Freud is sitting in this room.” It hasn’t happened yet, but give him time – he’s only been at CI for 9 years.
As an Associate Professor and Chair of the Psychology program, Adams ensures students graduate with an edge to compete.
More than 40 percent of CI’s psychology graduates go into Master’s and Ph.D. programs. One reason for that success rate is the hands-on undergraduate research exposure students receive. Adams, a social psychologist, involves students in community-based research exploring people’s attitudes about quality of life, hope and other factors that influence wellbeing. Over the years, he and his students have created and administered nearly 8,000 surveys.
The experience helps courses like Statistics come to life, as students organize and analyze data they’ve collected. Then, Adams makes them write up their findings and present them in a conference before peers and professionals.
“Our students come back and tell me they’ve already mastered what others in their graduate programs are struggling to learn,” he said.
He’s also known for bringing people together. Many in-class activities force students to interact. He conducts a beloved annual survey of campus personnel’s favorite songs on certain topics as a fun, unifying exercise. He prides himself on knowing almost everyone on campus – if not by name, at least by face. And it’s common for the 15-minute walk home to University Glen to become an hour-long social tour, as Adams chats with colleagues and students.
“Sometimes just listening and offering a kind word will have more impact than you’ll ever know,” he said.