Acknowledging the dedication that Fullerton College faculty members have to their students and local communities, Political Science Professor Jodi Balma was recognized during a surprise Zoom meeting/ award ceremony on March 4.
Balma, an instructor from the social science department and coordinator for the FC Honors Program, was selected from a nomination pool and received the prestigious award titled, 2021 Faculty of the Year. This is Balma’s second time being awarded this title, following a prior win in 2014.
Similar to chemical elements, in groups on the periodic table, educators around the world share defining characteristics and display similarities in teaching styles and personal motivations.
Within the academic sector, there is a shared dedication to helping students reach higher education and long-term career goals.
Balma says, her courses help students learn how to think about politics with an emphasis on critical thinking and analysis, regardless of political party or ideology.
Through a combination of elements from her teaching philosophy, Balma helps support students, and peers, as they navigate the changing climate of the American government and study political science.
Elements of Balma’s teaching philosophy include:
Political science and American politics are important courses to take because they offer students the opportunity to expand their understanding of what role they have to play in politics. It reminds students and the communities they represent, that they need to be in the rooms where decisions are made.
Fullerton College 2018 Distinguished Student of the Year and former Balma mentee, Camille Serrano, recalls attending the California Women Lead Conference with Balma, where she met Dianne Feinstein and worked with political activists from across the country.
“Through my capacity as a delegate at the California Women’s Lead Conference and honors student assistant, I truly started to find my voice,” said Serrano, who has graduated from UCLA and is now pursuing a law degree.
Balma’s voracity for education stems from a long family history of child development professionals. Her early passion for learning new information, stayed the same, just like an element’s atomic number.
Balma’s lineage includes 3 grandparents, who were teachers. Her mother, a kindergarten teacher, and her father, whom Balma has described as a “history lover.”
Balma explains that her father, a dentist who prized curiosity as an attribute over IQ, was her first teacher. He, who passed away earlier this year, encouraged her from a young age to bring questions that they would then research together in the family library.
Balma’s primary goal, over the last year, was ensuring her students had access to the tools they needed to stay informed and that they were able to educate themselves by visiting primary sources for data.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, cognizant of mental health challenges as a result of incendiary media reporting, Balma sent out a daily announcement called What We Know Today… containing up-to-date information as things began changing rapidly.
Balma also started a podcast, “A Slice of Orange: North Orange County politics,” covering statewide ballot measures, interview candidates, elected officials, and policymakers.
Like the reflection on a glass lab beaker, Balma explains one of her main roles as a professor is to reflect her student’s potential.
“Helping people see their potential often allows them to reach it,” Balma said.
Former students, like Steven Sherry, keep close ties with the professor. Sherry was one of five Fullerton College political science alumni working on presidential campaigns in the 2020 election cycle. He arranged to have presidential candidate Tom Steyer speak at Fullerton College.
All five alumni students have shared their experiences, as guest speakers in Balma’s classes, encouraging students to work on campaigns in local elections.
The selection of Faculty of the Year is through a committee comprised of members from Associated Students and Faculty Senate.
Balma, as well as the five other finalists including Archie Delshad, Sheilah Dobyns, Laura Lazarus, Meg O’Rourke, and Catherine Reinhardt-Zacair, will all receive additional recognition when it is safe to do so.
While discussing the reasons she may have won Faculty of the Year, Balma humbly credited her win to Fullerton College’s broad network of dedicated faculty and administrative resources.
“There are scores of instructors and individuals, that are just as deserving. Many colleagues don’t even apply, or I am sure they would have won, several times over,” said Balma, smiling.
She explained that alone she is just one teacher but alongside her colleagues, she is one of the many elements that help play a vital role in the success and prosperity of Fullerton College students and the greater Orange County community.