Professor elevates healing

Educator wins Teacher of the Year award


Cody Casares / The Advocate

Health and human services department Chairperson Aminta Mickles earned the Contra Costa County Office of Education’s Teacher of the Year award for 2016.

By Marci Suela, Art Director

A strong support system empowers individuals to overcome discouragement and thrive as they reach for their dreams. So when Contra Costa College health and human services department Chairperson Aminta Mickles attended graduate school, she worked hard to maintain a schedule that allowed her to pursue her career dreams.

Her passion for earning a master’s degree in clinical psychology continuously motivated Mickles despite balancing a full-time job and taking care of her 2-year-old child.

“I was working a full-time job in Contra Costa County’s substance abuse division and I had a child with severe asthma,” Mickles said. “But, I was doing everything I possibly could because I loved doing it.”

During Mickles’ graduate studies at San Francisco State University, a professor discouraged her from obtaining that degree because she struggled attending group activities on campus outside of class.

“(Those words) pierced my heart, but I talked to my mom and sisters about the situation and they encouraged me to go back and finish my master’s. It was a learning opportunity because it pushed me more to finish and to never discourage others,” she said. “I don’t care how much my students are struggling. With my experience of how I was treated, I will never tell them they’re not good enough.”

She carried her experiences into her classroom when she started teaching at CCC in 2006. Currently serving in her 10th year as the chairperson of the department, she challenges her students to work at the best of their abilities in their studies and their relationships with others.

Health and human services major Telshaia Hemry said, “Mickles always tells us, ‘Anything you give me, I will not accept it unless it is at a university level.’ She looks at each one of us as Harvard (University) students, preparing us for the real world and these situations when we enter the field.” 

UCSF clinical social worker and CCC alumnus Kawal Ulanday said her motivating attitude and support positively impacts struggling students, turning them into successful clinical social workers, case managers and counselors.

“When I was in the community doing mental health work after I graduated, I often ran into my classmates working at agencies,” Ulanday said. “When I went to trainings, they would also be there. The thing we had in common was taking her classes. Some students were not sure if they could do this kind of work. But her motivating spirit promoted people’s confidence and reminded them they do have the ability to do this. Just who she is helped us to keep going.”

Mickles said, “We don’t know everything about a person, but everyone has crises. There’s so much negativity in the world. I don’t want to be a part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution.”

The respect and sweet demeanor she exhibits toward her students and colleagues has earned her the 2016 Contra Costa County Office of Education’s Community College Teacher of the Year award. Mickles received the honor at a lavish dinner in Concord on Sept. 22.

Sincere treatment

After working as a community organizer for nine years, Ulanday decided to change careers and returned to college in 2006 to work in a healing profession.

Soon afterward he learned he had Stage 4 throat cancer. He said he was grateful to be in Mickles’ classes during that time because of the support he received from others in the program and for having a platform to express his issues.

“They (students in health and human services) are people who want to become healers, but also were wounded themselves. They’re wounded healers who want to take part in healing the community,” Ulanday, who no longer has cancer, said. “It was a beautiful experience. People were coming to learn, but at the same time they were opening up and becoming vulnerable to each other.

“Because of the way professor Mickles holds the class and makes everyone feel safe to do that, the classroom turned into not just a learning environment — it was also a therapeutic environment. She has a special skill to be able to create an environment where everyone becomes vulnerable and builds trust.”

Setting the example

Mickles said since professionals “hear the good, the bad and the ugly,” she provides examples of how case managers should handle various encounters.

In order to effectively help others to achieve their own self-realizations, health and human services major Kimberly Wright said, “(Mickles) is stern about certain things and gives me the correct answer when I’m not right. She holds me accountable, while having the nicest smile on her face.”

Aside from the material she teaches in her classes, students learn how to carry themselves in the profession by watching how Mickles acts, health and human services major Jamie Travis said.

“She never changes every time I see her and always has a smile on her face. Her goodness is infectious.”

Because she models how to work in the profession as a counselor, social worker or case manager, health and human services major Kristin Lobos said it inspires and encourages students “to become the best practitioners.”

Mickles takes her students to serve food to the homeless at the Bay Area Rescue Mission in Richmond each semester to have direct contact with “the population we’re going to serve,” Mickles said.

“Last year I took my family to serve. We served lunch and chatted with (those eating lunch) there. My nephew’s only 10 and he asked, ‘Are we going here again?’ This is making an impact on not only my students, but my family as well. We teach by example that everyone can lend a hand to somebody.”