CGCC rewards excellence in 2012

Two outstanding members of the Columbia Gorge Community College faculty and staff have netted awards of excellence for the 2011-12 school year. Both share a dedication and belief in their work that others recognize as extraordinary.

Standing over a fuming Bunsen burner might sound like the work of a mad scientist, but for Rob Kovacich, it’s all in a days work as CGCC’s primary chemistry instructor. Kovacich’s passion for science and his high student expectations have earned him respect from a wide variety of nominators.

Jean Ewald, pre-college instructional assistant, brings calm to the testing room for teens and adults who opt to take their G.E.D. exam. With 28 years on the job, Ewald is able to transmit confidence to those who seek her help. Her stable, consistent belief in the power of education to change student’s lives is at the heart of her staff recognition.

The annual CGCC Award of Excellence program provides the staff and faculty winners with a $500 cash award along with a presentation during CGCC graduation ceremonies.

For both Kovacich and Ewald, the award came as an unexpected, but welcome pat on the back. Ewald and Kovacich were honored this year and their names will now be inscribed on the perpetual plaques at the college.

“She’s the glue that holds the whole program together,” said Ewald’s supervisor Dave Mason, director of pre-college, humanities, social sciences and human services at CGCC.

“It couldn’t have gone to a nicer person. She is so deserving. She quietly goes about her job but she excels at everything and is so pleasant,” said fellow longtime staff assistant Charlotte Lavendar.

“I love testing. I know it sounds strange that you love giving a test but it’s the culmination of the students’ goal,” said Ewald when asked about her career. “I’m usually the first contact with the students, either on the phone or when they come in, so you see sometimes what it takes for them to walk in the door. Then I’m at the end when they are done. I get to share that success with them.”

Ewald received her bachelor’s degree in secretarial science from Oregon State University. She started out at CGCC teaching typing, shorthand and accounting.

Kovacich earned his master’s degree in chemistry at Oregon State University after completing a bachelor’s degree in education at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.

“Rob doesn’t just teach chemistry; he has been a key person in the development of our distance learning program at CGCC,” said supervisor Dr. Susan Wolff, former chief academic officer for CGCC. “But it is also his spirit that is so remarkable.”

That spirit becomes evident when you have a moment to hear the philosophy behind Kovacich’s teaching.

“The awesome wind in the Gorge; the terrible clay balls on the trails of Post Canyon; the pool of cherry rinse water at exit 85 in The Dalles; it is all chemistry,” said Kovacich when asked about his choice of career.

“You are a bag of chemicals undergoing constant reaction. I see the atoms around us and I want my students to also see those atoms.

“My philosophy is simple: Show the students a path, give them the tools to travel that path, then get out of the way,” said Kovacich. “I think I am a bit hated for my favorite response to most questions; ‘No, I won’t answer that, because you can figure that out on your own. Come tell me what you learned once you do.’”

It may be that Ewald and Kovacich represent important ends of the spectrum to a successful college experience — being welcomed and handled with care all the while learning how to discover and then rely on your own new found knowledge.

For Ewald and Kovacich, the award is an acknowledgement of the wide variety of educational styles that bring success to each student at the college.

For more information on the Awards of Excellence contact Sara Rinearson at 541-506-6151 or

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