Glen Oaks Community College has announced that Kevin Conner, professor of information technology, is this year’s recipient of the prestigious E. J. Shaheen Teaching Excellence award. He will be recognized during the year’s commencement ceremony on Friday, May 7.
Conner is said to be a captivating and caring instructor who works hard to makes sure his students fully understand concepts and succeed in their classes as well as in their future. He has continuously worked to expand the range of information technology program offerings. Above and beyond the classroom, he began the Gaming Club a few years ago, and pre-pandemic, he spent 3-4 hours on weeknights, as well as Saturday mornings, in order to provide times for like-minded students to come together to advance not only their gaming skills, but their social skills.
Conner, a Sturgis native, had always thought about studying computers; but after graduating from Sturgis High School, instead he started doing residential and commercial painting in addition to working a part-time job at Porter Drug Store in town. After suffering a life-changing health condition affecting his mobility at age 29, he recalls driving out to Glen Oaks and making the decision to go to college.
“I sold my fishing boat and trailer, and a few other assets to pay for a basic computer which was about $3,000 back in the nineties,” said Conner, “and I began classes as an adult student.”
Shortly into his studies, he was offered a part-time position in the college’s Media Center as a media assistant. This marked the beginning of his 27-year career at Glen Oaks.
Conner earned an Associate of Applied Science in Business, with a focus on micro-computer applications in 1997. During commencement, he was honored with the President’s Award. He also received the Wall St. Journal Award in recognition for excellence in academics.
Conner continued working part-time at the Media Center upon graduation and was soon offered an opportunity to teach a data processing class on campus over the summer.
“I was surprised at the opportunity and nervous about the teaching assignment,” said Conner, “but it actually went quite well.”
He also taught in the following fall semester while pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Davenport University’s Kalamazoo campus. He received a Bachelor in Applied Science specializing in E-Commerce in 2003, before obtaining a Master of Science in 2005 at Capella University where he specialized in computer networking.
“I taught as an adjunct and that soon turned into a part-time teaching position,” said Conner. “I eventually became a full-time faculty member while in the last year of my master’s program.”
Conner has seen and been instrumental in advancing the Information Technology Department during his time with Glen Oaks.
“When I started, we didn’t have strictly Information Technology degrees,” said Conner. “Computer classes were offered through the Business Department. One of the first classes that I brought to the program was a computer repair course, followed by a computer networking course. Early programs focused more on web development, but as things became more automated through the use of content management systems such as Word Press, demand for those programs decreased.”
More recently, Conner spearheaded the effort to bring a couple Cybersecurity programs and an Associate of Computer Science degree to campus.
Through the years, Conner has seen a lot of change on campus. “One of the biggest changes has been in student demographics,” said Conner. “When starting as a student, it was a mixture of 18-year-olds and adult students. The students are much younger today, as a result of the college serving a large number of area high school students.”
“I remember early on — one of my adult students was crying one day because she accidentally turned the cursor into a dinosaur and thought she had broken the computer,” said Conner.
“Classes are more hands-on and engaging today,” said Conner of the changes in teaching. “They say you can lose a student’s attention in less than a second, so you need to be mindful of that. Instructors need to keep things short and to the point. Changes in technology through the years has made that all the easier for me.”
“Our greatest strength is the small size and personal attention we give our students,” said Conner. “It’s hard not to become friends with the students in your class.”
So what’s in store for the future? Conner sees growing the Gaming Club. “Esports, or virtual sports, have gained a lot of momentum recently,” said Conner. “It’s getting pretty common for schools to have Esports teams compete online with one another. Perhaps the biggest hurdle is figuring out which game(s) to use for competition. Probably the most common ones out there today is League of Legends, followed by Dota 2 and Counter-Strike. There are pro-gamers out there and the stakes for winners are high.”
For now, Conner continues to advise the club – his favorite game? Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege.
The E. J. Shaheen Chair for Teaching and Excellence Award was initiated in 1984 with a generous donation from E. J. Shaheen, one of the original Glen Oaks Board members. Shaheen, a college professor, lawyer, and business owner, placed a high value on education and spent much of his later life promoting high quality education and education institutions, including Glen Oaks. The award is administered through the Glen Oaks Foundation.