(Orange)—Santiago Canyon College (SCC) professor of economics Alex Taber, Ph.D., was selected as Orange County’s top community college teacher of 2014. Taber heard the news while teaching his macroeconomics class on May 8. He was interrupted by a surprise visit by Orange County Superintendent of Schools Al Mijares, Ph.D., SCC President Juan Vázquez, and others who came to announce his selection. Taber humbly accepted his golden apple and $15,000 awards.
Taber, who was selected by his peers for SCC’s Faculty Excellence Award in 2011, is held in high esteem by faculty and students alike. His students say that he is “unique among professors in that he is not only concerned with his students’ success in the classroom, but he is also focused on making sure that his students succeed beyond the classroom.” For many of his students, he is not just their instructor, but their mentor.
Since joining the SCC full-time faculty in 1999, he has taught the Principles of Macroeconomics (Economics 120) and the Principles of Microeconomics (Economics 121). According to Taber, the most valuable experience a student gains from a community college education involves self-discovery and “learning how to learn.” While he recognizes that much of the discipline-specific content learned in the classroom may fade over time, the understanding that a student gains of how to develop strategies for leveraging one’s strengths and strengthening one’s weaknesses will serve the student for a lifetime.
“A caring teacher emphasizes and celebrates the student’s process of self-discovery, self-empowerment, and growth no matter how far along the student is in the process. The actual subject taught is secondary, and serves as a vehicle for achieving this goal,” said Taber.
His devotion to his students and to his discipline spurs Taber to infuse fun and creativity into the classroom with the end goal of student engagement. He explains economic concepts verbally; he demonstrates them visually using graphs, props, colors, and cartoons; proves them mathematically; and uses memorable stories in which his students are active participants. By using humor and technology, he brings what could be viewed as a “dismal science” alive for his students.
“Balls of crumpled paper on a desk become resources to be allocated, a dance becomes a kinesthetic way to remember patterns of international trade, a pair of chopsticks becomes a demand curve and a supply curve, and amusing parables involving hors d’oeuvres and speeding tickets bring Federal Reserve interest rate policy alive for students,” he said.
For Taber, satisfaction comes in the moments when he knows he has made a positive difference in his students’ lives. He said this may be either in the classroom or in his office hours when something “clicks” for a student or a student finally grasps a concept or demonstrates confidence. He is grateful to hear from former students who share their accomplishments and challenges at SCC and beyond. He said a common thread in the feedback is that although his classes are seen as challenging, students recognize how the experience better prepared them for future demands and successes.
One former student Ricardo Doddoli said, “Prior the course (macroeconomics), I had no knowledge of economics; by the end of the semester, I was captivated by the subject and was pursuing a degree in economics.” Doddoli, who will graduate from the University of San Diego with a finance degree next week, is grateful for the sound advice and support so readily offered. “My last semester at SCC, although I was not enrolled in any of his classes I would often visit his office asking for advice and he always showed a willingness to help.”
In addition to teaching at SCC, Taber has taught at the California Institute of Technology, the University of Miami, and the University of Chicago where he was a Pew Teaching Fellow. He is the co-author of a research paper, The Divisibility of Money and Welfare in a Matching Model, which he presented at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia (FRBP) at a conference on Macroeconomic Theory and Monetary Policy sponsored jointly by the FRBP and the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Economic Research. The paper was subsequently published in the International Economic Review.
About Santiago Canyon College
Santiago Canyon College is a public community college of Rancho Santiago Community College District, serving the residents of Anaheim Hills, Orange, Tustin and Villa Park. The college provides education for academic transfer and careers, courses for personal and professional development, and customized training for business and industry.
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