This year's McPherson Distinguished Teaching Award will be presented May 12 to former mathematics department chair Randy Villa, who said his passion for teaching math started in Santa Rosa where he lives, but blossomed at Napa Valley College where he has worked since 1990.
Over the years, several NVC educators became students of his, including fellow math teacher Diane Van Deusen, Dean of Instruction Maria Villagomez, Rob Miller, Christina Rivera, Jeremy Ecklin and Jolie SanClair.
His students included Richard Cullinen, Cotati's mayor 20 years ago, who drove to Napa Valley College to take his highly regarded statistics class.
"His students love him," said Dr. Steven Fawl, chemistry professor, one of several teachers who submitted papers nominating Professor Villa for the award.
"His singular focus is on improving the quality of education by hiring exceptional faculty, providing students with the tools needed to succeed, and providing professional development opportunities for himself and the faculty in his department," Fawl wrote.
Dean Villagomez also nominated Professor Villa.
"The breadth of his experience, his excellent teaching skills, and his ability to connect with students has enriched the lives of thousands of NVC students," she wrote. "During his tenure at NVC, he has always demonstrated a high level of professionalism, competence, dedication, passion, integrity and excellent work-ethic."
Villa came to Santa Rosa from New York in his mid-20s in 1974 as an electronics security salesman. He studied electronics at Santa Rosa Junior College for a couple of years until he discovered a mathematics class taught by "the greatest instructor of all time," Karl J. Smith.
"Karl Smith was able to read the student who was struggling," said Villa. "He knew if you got too far ahead as a teacher you would lose the students at the bottom. He brought the C and D students up without losing the A and B students. He had a 95 percent student retention rate, compared to a 50 percent average."
Villa quit his full-time job to take more math classes from Smith and "every math class I could" at SRJC. "I was mesmerized. I did my homework right away and went to the library to find more math books."
The junior college at that time was looking for students to take part-time teaching jobs, so Villa became a research analyst, which led to a job as an adjunct algebra instructor.
"I knew right away, this is what I was going to do for the rest of my life," he said.
Within two years he took a second job teaching math to Upward Bound students at Sonoma State University, and then a third job teaching a part-time class at Napa Valley College.
In 1990, he was hired as a full-time math teacher at NVC.
"Mathematics, along with physics, can explain a lot that goes on in the world," Villa said. "I'm having fun – it's not like I'm going to work. There's something about the need to share with students. I'll never retire from teaching math – I will teach math until I can't do it anymore."
Villa's son, Travis, 27, will graduate Sonoma State this month with a bachelor's degree in statistics.
"He turned out to be a natural," said his dad.
Villa's father, Jose Garcia Villa, a native of the Philippines known as "The Pope of Greenwich Village," was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1943, for his book, "Have Come, Am Here," a series of poems. Robert Frost won his fourth Pulitzer that year.
In Santa Rosa, Villa is active as a community volunteer, working with the Food Bank to feed 80,000 to 100,000 people annually in Sonoma and Mendocino counties.
After 9/11, Villa was one of several people recognized for promoting peace and understanding by Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, in a ceremony sponsored by the Napa Valley Peace Table.