Barbara Gershman


Barbara Gershman

Instructor Barbara GershmanI taught an International Foods class at Saddleback College, 1974-75, while also teaching full time and being department chair at Lowell High School in Whittier and teaching a Nutrition course at Fullerton College.  I was hired in 1975 to teach full time at Saddleback and retired in 2004.  I worked at Saddleback College for 32 years. I continued to teach part time until 2006.  Gary Resnick, Biology Professor at Saddleback and colleague at Lowell High School, preceded me to Saddleback and urged me to make the transition.            

STUDENTS were always THE highlights during my Saddleback career.  The nature of community colleges is to offer a first, second or later chance at completing education despite life’s ups and downs.  The most determined and successful students were usually returning after experiencing other life stages.  They were usually more focused in developing and completing their plans.  In appreciation for helping them attain their goals or formulate goals they hadn’t envisioned before taking classes, some students brought me:

• apple turnovers (not just apples);

• baklava (from an Iranian student via Canada whose daughter later took my  Nutrition for Health Occupations class for her nursing program);

• low-fat scones (recipe make-over after borrowing my new cookbook from Scotland).

They reflected interest in class topics, their heritage, adapting healthy lifestyle and food choices and led to career preparation.  Handwritten notes and later, emails thanked me for what they had accomplished. Students seemed to always appreciate opportunities to apply coursework to their personal lives and career goals as they completed projects such as:

• Tracking dietary or health-related changes for a semester, evaluating and reporting results to their classmates.   Students were very supportive of each other;

• Completing critical thinking assignments on nutrition topics and learning how to evaluate and navigate through information sources and gain computer and library use confidence. In the early days of computer research these projects helped launch students into other areas;

• Investigating complex nutrition questions in the Honors Nutrition course.  The smaller class size and specialized course led to many interesting debates and discussions.

                The VEA project we conducted in low-income areas in San Juan Capistrano over several years brought career-oriented students, community families, and college resources together to teach healthier food options and money saving techniques. Cooperative Work Experience became a part of every certificate program we developed with the input of advisory committees.  It was exciting to visit students at work locations such as: Mission Hospital and other hospital dietary services departments; the Ritz-Carlton, Montage,  Surf and Sand Hotel, Laguna Hotel, various South County Senior Centers, health and fitness clubs, school food service and classroom health projects. Success stories of students making their next steps in career preparation were always wonderful to hear:

• A former student assistant and single parent made her way through remedial math courses and moved through Saddleback and CSULB to become a Registered Dietitian;

• A FN student completed her coursework at Saddleback and degree in Food Science at Chapman University, linking with a key professor there to create award-winning new food products;

• A former student assistant left me his graduation announcement for his B.S. in chemistry from UC Berkeley.  He had experienced many challenges in adjusting to life in the U.S. after growing up in Vietnam;

• Another former student assistant was hired in Student Services after completing her degrees at Saddleback and CSUF.

Many students seemed to thrive when working as teams:

Foods and Nutrition Club – We had a very active FN Club during my Saddleback career including career and interest speakers, field trips, demos, participation in Clubs Day, Career Day, High School Visit Day, Multi-Cultural Day, Kindercaminata, and college service and advisement.  Club members presented demos and shared their Saddleback College experiences with others at these events.

Class Projects – Annual Thanksgiving Luncheons and Spring Buffets with campus guests and students’ guests to experience planning, preparation, presentation, service, recap and evaluation for career preparation and integration into life experiences with leadership development and confidence building throughout the projects.  There were always surprises as to which students outperformed expectations.  I’ll always remember such students as the young man, who was a high-school dropout but later earned all As in his FN courses and went on to work in a prestigious Cajun restaurant in Santa Barbara and then on to culinary school. He was a whirlwind.

Special Students – Some students didn’t know they had special needs.  A favorite was a young man who sat in the front row in my large lecture Nutrition class of 80.  He could not use his arms, wore slip-on sandals and used his feet for every function, including passing back stacks of class assignments and filling in Scantron exam forms.  Through the years small groups of students with special needs were integrated into my Foods classes.  Their assistants and I felt that mainstreaming these students helped bridge many areas of misconceptions on all sides.

Many community college students face a balancing act of coursework, family and jobs plus many complications.  Student advisement became part of teaching.


• As the only full-time faculty in my discipline I was the de facto FN chair for many years before it was made official.  I led the team of associate faculty in managing the department with intensive equipment, supply and curriculum needs. 

• Our Division always included a wide diversity of disciplines.  It was challenging to work with a variety of colleagues and compete for scarce budgetary resources.  But we generally had a collegial environment and partnered on many projects.  We grew to respect each other’s expertise and celebrated each other’s successes.

• Working with other campus divisions and departments was rewarding, especially with Student Services, Counseling, Financial Aid, Special Services, Library and Learning Resources, Cooperative Work Experience, ITC and A-V Services colleagues.  Maintenance and operations came to our rescue numerous times.

• Supervising a Weight Watchers at Work program to meet in the FN facilities also led to networking across campus.  We eventually established our own program.

I especially enjoyed interdisciplinary faculty experiences on special projects:

  • The multi-disciplinary Summer Project on Latin America culture;
  • Title III Project – incorporating technology into the classroom.  I gained much assistance and experience in preparing PowerPoint presentations for my classes and refining Computer Diet Analysis assignments. That was a far cry from the first computer class I took on lower campus.

• Serving on the Academic Senate, Honors Board and many other campus-wide committees led to a greater understanding of college issues. 


• Facilities: When I began teaching at Saddleback all the FN/FCS classes were on lower campus in one small classroom.  I was the primary faculty member to design the new foods lab and related classrooms.  This involved visiting several community college and high school foods labs with tape measure in hand, researching options, planning, meeting with the architect, and redoing all of this several times.  It took about 8 years between the planning phase and moving to the new BGS building on upper campus in May, 1986.

• Equipment and supplies: It was an exhausting process to research and order equipment for the new lab.  Through the years many items had to be replaced within competitive decision making.  When the big move to the new BGS building came, movers were hired for the bigger part of the job.  No one was hired to unpack anything.  My 5 year-old daughter and I practically camped out in the new FN lab unpacking all summer and enlisting help from anyone who “walked by.”  Continuous planning, budgeting, organization and management of the lab were major challenges throughout my career.

• Curriculum, programs, certificates, brochures, and marketing materials: These had to be developed and updated regularly in order to meet the needs of students and their career preparation. Changes had to be navigated through approval processes at Saddleback and in articulation with high schools, R.O.P., and colleges and universities.  Developing program brochures, flyers and other publicity materials was necessary for program health and growth.

• Helping Others to Understand and Respect the Many Levels of FN / FCS:

Since the subject matter dealt with career preparation, life preparation and lifelong learning it was an ongoing challenge to deal with public relations.  Some entity on campus and even at a sister campus always wanted to take over the facilities, subject matter, and resources to reallocate to other areas or unqualified faculty.

• Having many, many changes in division leadership:

There were at least 10 changes in Division deans during my career at Saddleback.  This led to very different management styles and priorities set within the division.

• Working against stereotypes:

Challenges were always present in being a female faculty member and teaching in a traditional career area for females yet working in a male-dominated educational institution.

• In-service and subject matter updates:

Opportunities for faculty in-service were very helpful in updating teaching methods, developing computer skills, sharing across disciplines, and connecting with the campus community.  It was always a challenge to update subject matter and teaching strategies.  I could never understand why some faculty members did not feel this was their responsibility.

• Participation in professional organizations:

Making the time to participate in state and Orange County professional organizations seemed to pay off in having current career and subject matter information to share with students, enable networking, and learning about student volunteer and work experience opportunities.  It was always a time crunch to work these in with teaching and campus responsibilities.  Professional service included: Orange County Nutrition Council (I served as President); American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, Orange District (served as President); Southern California Consumer Science Business Professionals; Orange County coalitions such as Children and Weight Task Force, Orange County Nutrition Alert Coalition, 5-A-Day Campaign; Southern California Foods, Nutrition and Dietetics Consortium with members from community colleges and universities having related programs; and California Community Colleges Family and Consumer Sciences planning board. 

• Faculty evaluation process:

The issue of designing and implementing a relevant faculty evaluation process has always been a challenge.  I did not know that an evaluator only had to stay for a certain number of minutes until one walked out of my class without observing the students demonstrating what they had just learned.  Another evaluator made very petty observations on issues beyond the control of the instructor such as noisy A-V equipment.  When I performed the evaluator role, I tried very hard to bring out positive comments and offer constructive suggestions.

Experiences: first hired vs. at retirement?

First Hired

At Retirement

Smaller college community

Larger, more impersonal

Administration more approachable

Distant, divisive, more impersonal

Cut off all contact at my retirement except for fund-raising requests.  At some other community colleges Emeritus faculty are included in college activities in some way.

Smaller class sizes

Creative ways to include more students such as online classes. I always taught a large lecture Nutrition class after moving to the BGS building.


Less diversity in students

Diversity changes reflected waves of immigration: Vietnam, Iran, Afghanistan.  Also, changing population in South County and international students and athletes  coming specifically to the college.

Students more respectful of each other and of faculty

Decreased respect reflecting societal changes, competition for grades & pressure to qualify for

impacted programs such as Nursing. Students seemed more detached in email rather than phone or face-to-face communication.

Campus-wide problem solving more fluid, pragmatic and a team approach

More bureaucracy and fear of legal actions