Teaching Excellence award recipients help students own their futures

Although they teach different subjects, a common theme emerges when talking with Austin Community College’s 2016 Teaching Excellence award recipients: empowerment.

“Having control over language is having power, and a lot of my students need to be empowered,” says Frank Cronin, professor of developmental writing and student development.

Adds Sean Perry, adjunct professor of photography, “I tell students, ‘You can give yourself to something you love and work to craft a life around it. You have the opportunity to build a path for your career across the trajectory of your life.’”

ACC’s Teaching Excellence award recognizes one full-time and one adjunct faculty member whose knowledge, innovation, and teaching philosophy set them apart. Read more about this year’s honorees:

Frank Cronin: Teaching ‘happiness skills’

Frank Cronin says he has always loved reading and learning, but it was a sense of obligation to society instilled in him at a young age that drew him to ACC and to developmental education.


Frank Cronin has taught at ACC for 28 years.

“Anybody who teaches in developmental education is doing something very important. If we don’t get people educated, how are they going to be productive citizens?”

During his 28 years at ACC he has collected numerous success stories, including one about a Lost Boy of Sudan who eventually earned a doctorate, or the older student who went from being a “deer in the headlights” to observe just weeks later, “’I finally get it. Education is a way I can change who I am.’”

Cronin, who holds degrees in foreign language instruction and linguistics, says getting students to that point involves being available for them and recognizing they have lives that don’t always run smoothly. He encourages students to visit his office and work side-by-side with him when they are struggling. To better empathize with those who must remediate, he took developmental math to learn skills that always had been difficult for him.

Outside the classroom he has tried to be a “complete educator.” He has helped organize state and international conferences for his peers. He has served on ACC’s Faculty Senate twice, and he helped start an emergency fund for colleagues in need.

In the end, Cronin says, he does more than teach students how to craft an essay. He is helping to shape people.

“I explain that their ability to communicate clearly their needs and dreams to others has much to do with their getting what they want in life. I do not teach writing skills. I teach happiness skills.”

Sean Perry: The students make it happen

Sean Perry says there is a lot of truth to the adage that students teach you more than you teach them. For him, the education comes from helping students make their own connections between their work and their future, and realizing previously unseen paths.

Perry’s own route to teaching was indirect. Although he is from a family of educators, he pursued music and spent nearly two decades as a working musician. He eventually directed his artistic pursuits to photography, where he has earned accolades for the technical and artistic sides of the craft.

In addition to his photography career, he operated his own digital retouching and pre-press company and taught corporate seminars on digital publishing. When an adjunct faculty position opened at ACC in 2001, he decided to direct his passion to the classroom. For several years he taught concurrently at New York City’s School of Visual Arts.

TPR In Conversation Michael O'Brien & Sean Perry | Promo Slides | Not for Reproduction.

Photographer Michael O’Brien visits with Sean Perry as part of the “In Conversation” series hosted by the Photographic Technology Department and produced by The Picture Review team.

Today Perry helps students understand how the skills they acquire feed into a photographer’s career. He and fellow faculty member Kathryn Watts-Martinez founded a mentoring program, The Picture Review, to show students how they can nurture a photographic life and contribute to their community through photography.

“Our students are investing in themselves and submitting their work for exhibitions, competitions, publishing, and commission opportunities. They are winning awards and maturing their own vision,” he says. “It provides fuel and drive at a point in their career that helps them realize it is possible ― they can make it happen. I can’t teach that. It is something earned in the process.

“To witness their success, the impact it has on their confidence and skills, and the energy it fosters to want to be excellent in what we do together is a true privilege. For The Picture Review, we say, ’Make good work and get it seen.’ I am so thrilled they are doing exactly that.”

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