Celebrating our latest faculty promotions and teaching excellence (left to right) Heather Elmatti, Alissa Sustarsic, Brenda Skoczelas, President Heather Bigard, Board Chair Bret Jones, Amber Karlins, Dr. Michele Rudden, Nora Rackley

We are proud to celebrate six faculty members, five of whom received promotions and one who was awarded continuing contract. At their meeting on March 27, the District Board of Trustees approved these actions effective August 14, 2024.

Faculty promotions occur through a comprehensive process including a review of their portfolio that outlines their work in teaching excellence, service to the College and community, and professional development. This process is designed to recognize the work of the faculty member and ensure that they meet the standards of excellence as outlined by the College and in the profession.

Continuing contract is a long-term employment agreement that offers the faculty member the opportunity to advance their career in higher education. Student success is central to their work, and continuing contract supports their ability to incorporate innovative learning strategies and methods to support student success in their course and career.

Each faculty member had the opportunity to present to the District Board of Trustees to provide an overview of their portfolio, including their work in the classroom, service to the College, and to advance the profession.

On Friday, March 29, President Bigard and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Karen Hogans, hosted a celebration for these six faculty members at their monthly faculty meeting. This afforded the recipients another opportunity to present to their peers and share appreciation for the support and collegiality exhibited among the faculty at Lake-Sumter State College in support of the student experience.

Alissa Sustarsic and Nora Rackley are only the third and fourth individuals to be promoted to the rank of Senior Professor/Librarian in the College’s history. In this senior role, they also serve in an important mentorship capacity to their peers.

Alissa Sustarsic, promotion to Senior Professor

Alissa has taught mathematics at Lake-Sumter State College for 24 years and holds a deep commitment to fostering learning and challenging students. Alissa believes in creating an inclusive and supportive classroom environment where students feel comfortable asking questions and participating actively.

“My goal is to facilitate the learning of math to challenge and motivate students to become their very best and encourage them to become lifelong learners,” Sustarsic shared with the District Board of Trustees. “Math is often a difficult subject for students. I strive to change their stigma of math from previous experiences. I don’t promise that they’re going to love math, but I do believe that I can decrease the amount that they dislike math.”

Nora Rackley, promotion to Senior Librarian

Nora has worked at Lake-Sumter State College for 28 years. Her philosophy is driven by a commitment to provide accessible information resources for personal, professional, and educational growth for faculty, staff, and students. Her dedication to information literacy is evident in her teaching approach; she ensures that students can locate, analyze, and synthesize information effectively.

Nora also supports faculty by assisting with assignments, implementing open educational resources, and serving as an embedded librarian in courses.

“My latest passion is open educational resources or OER,” Rackley shared in her presentation. “OER are textbooks and content available with licenses that allows teachers to use them at no cost to the students and reduces textbook costs to students significantly. I believe that’s the ultimate access considering the wealth of knowledge available in today’s world. If we can reduce those costs to students, we can make education more attainable.”

Heather Elmatti, promotion to Professor

Heather Elmatti has been a part of the LSSC college community for 22 years serving as a faculty member in the Communication area for the last 15 years. Heather continually strives to inspire her students to be life-long learners, seeing education and learning not just as the means to a degree, but as a model for life. She encourages students to be critical participants in contemporary society by incorporating learning activities that promote community involvement and responsibility.

“One of the areas I’ve focused on is experiential learning, or learning by doing, that offers practical experiences to students as part of their learning process,” said Elmatti. “I developed a business communication module for my public speaking course for the Honors program and developed networking activities that bring in local business professionals for one-on-one training and group activities. This allows students to apply the skills they learn in the classroom. It also helps build a connection to our community and introduces students the opportunities available to them.”

Brenda Skoczelas, promotion to Associate Professor

Brenda Skoczelas has taught physics at Lake-Sumter State College since 2014. Brenda emphasizes analytical thinking and problem-solving skills that students can apply to their everyday lives. She brings passion and excitement to every single lesson. She believes in the research that shows bringing positive energy to the classroom transfers to the students and not only motivates them to learn but increases their achievement.

“Have you heard of Bill Nye the Science Guy?,” Skoczelas asked during her presentation. “I want to introduce you to the Professor Sko Science show that has become a true passion project of mine. It started because I wanted to be the female role model in science that I feel like I didn’t have growing up, and now it’s blossomed into so much more than that. I take this character, Professor Sko, that I created and go into schools and summer camps and on YouTube to show that anyone can like science and get excited. I bring this same energy into the classroom at LSSC each and every time I teach.”

Amber Karlins, promotion to Associate Professor

Amber Karlins has been employed at Lake-Sumter State College since the fall of 2015. Her teaching philosophy is centered around a commitment to using innovative teaching practices, clearly defined expectations, and effectively designed assessments to teach students accessible, engaging material that is representative of diverse cultures and perspectives.

“As you know, the way we teach and interact with students has changed dramatically during and since the pandemic,” shared Karlins. “As the founder and coordinator of the Honors Program, this presented a particular challenge in a program that has a very strong co-curricular component. I spent a lot of time and energy on creating exciting and engaging synchronous and asynchronous online spaces for our honors students to learn and engage. I’m particularly proud of our relationship with Stetson University where our honors students can transfer directly to their honors program with a full scholarship once they graduate here. That’s currently valued at $115,000 per student.”

Dr. Michele Rudden, award of continuing contract

Dr. Michele Rudden is an Assistant Professor and has taught English and history courses at LSSC since August 2018. Her teaching philosophy prioritizes student-centered learning, acknowledging diverse backgrounds and learning styles to create an inclusive, engaging environment fostering collaboration and lifelong learning. She emphasizes critical thinking skills and collaborative problem-solving by blending entertainment with education to facilitate learning.

“I observed the students that I taught in ENC 1101 were coming into ENC 1102 and didn’t remember MLA format or citations,” shared Dr. Rudden. “In talking with my colleagues, I realized this was not an uncommon occurrence. Thus, for my faculty project, I wanted to find out where this information loss was happening and try to correct it. After running a pilot program in a variety of courses students take after ENC 1101, I developed a series of six videos that showed how to do citations from the most common sources our students use, and how to incorporate the signal phrases and in-text citations matching those particular sources. After the videos, I saw an increase of 8% in APA and 25% in MLA success rates for my student’s related coursework. I am now working to incorporate this content into classes across disciplines.”