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Cabrillo Extension Instructor Describes Her Love Affair with Computers

APTOS, CA -- Suzanne Mann loves teaching so much she has to suppress her desire to help people--even in the checkout line at the grocery store. Her real vocation, however, is teaching about computers.

“What really excites me is to expose students to new ideas and skills that help them think differently about the way they use the computer,” said Mann. “I tell students in class ‘you are going to learn to become the boss of this computer’.”

“One student recently told me at the end of a course, ‘thank you for all the light bulbs that went off during the class’,” Mann recalled. “When I see the recognition of a new idea in a student’s eyes, that is my payback right there.”

Mann has been at Cabrillo College since 1987 when she began teaching one of the college’s first hands-on computer application classes. This spring, she will teach a variety of daylong computer classes through Cabrillo Extension at the Watsonville campus location at 318 Union Street beginning in mid-February through May. The classes Mann will teach include Access, Excel, Dreamweaver MX, Coldfusion MX, Visual Basic, SQL Queries, PowerPoint and XML.

The Watsonville campus of Cabrillo College is Mann’s favorite place to hold the daylong classes. She looks forward to teaching there, not only because of the state-of-the-art lab and computer equipment and comfortable seating, but because she enjoys the blend of students from North and South County. “It is a great opportunity for people to mix together during class.”

Being the child of a teacher, Mann feels that her passion for teaching is genetic. The first class she ever taught was in a special program at her high school where students were allowed to design a two-week class and then teach it to their classmates. She was instantly hooked. Mann loves the excitement of learning something new and then sharing the knowledge with others, especially if she worked hard to learn it herself. She is intrigued by problem solving using the computer and especially enjoys shortening the learning curve for her students.

Surprisingly, her love affair with computers started well after college, while Mann was single-handedly raising her young daughter. She took an accounting class to get back into the workforce and after several years in bookkeeping jobs, she was offered a job in loan servicing in 1983 with a mortgage company in Carmel.

“Back then, everything was done on paper, and I was using a 10-key to calculate principal, interest, taxes and insurance on the loan payments that came in. I was working on an ulcer,” said Mann. “1983 was a significant year in small business computing. The PC was just beginning to be recognized as a viable business tool. Our head office in Dallas sent out one of the early versions of the IBM PC and the CEO said ‘if you learn how to use this thing we will fly you and your daughter to Dallas on the corporate jet.’ So I did and they did. My daughter and I thought we’d died and gone to heaven.”

But the hook was set. Mann fell in love with the possibilities the computer presented to quickly solve complex problems and do the redundant jobs for her. She ended up teaching the rest of the office how to use the PC and again after a transfer to a company-owned bank. It didn’t take long to realize that she was far more interested in working with the computer than in her job with the bank.

She formed her own consulting and training business in 1985 and has been doing it ever since. She spends about 70% of her time as a programmer and database developer for local organizations and 30% in the classroom passing on what she has learned to her students. “One advantage I have in the classroom is that I spend a great deal of time ‘out in the field’ so to speak, working with local companies. I bring that real-world experience into the classroom and I think it enhances the learning experience for my students.” Mann’s list of clients over the past 18 years includes AnnieGlass, Cultural Council of Santa Cruz, Dominican Hospital, Driscoll Strawberry Association, Gartner Group, Newman’s Own Organics, Pajaro Valley Unified School District, Plantronics, Raytek, Salz Leathers, Santa Cruz Association of Realtors, Silicon Valley Group, Watsonville Community Hospital, United Way of Santa Cruz County, and West Marine.

Mann took a one-year sojourn from consulting and training. She was offered a full time position by one of her clients, Masters Institute of Technology in San Jose. She spent a year as their Director of Applications. Mann regards that as one of the most rewarding opportunities of her career. “I had the opportunity to put into practice some long-held theories about how IS departments should serve their clients inside and outside the company.” One of the most exciting parts of her job was managing 17 programmers who came from all over the world including Bulgaria, the Philippines, Viet Nam, and China. “I loved watching the collaboration among this group,” said Mann. “What many people don’t realize is that really good programmers work in teams with intense collaboration. This is what I want my students to learn—how to collaborate and share knowledge with an attitude of mentoring and not a sense of aloneness on the computer. This is what speeds up the learning curve and builds the knowledge pool of an organization.”

In 1999, Mann taught a complete series of Microsoft Office classes to a local Watsonville company that blended employees from different departments and job descriptions. The end result was transforming to the students and the company, according to Mann. “The company understood that the computer proficiency of its employees was critical to its survival.”

“As a result of the training, the employees gained significant confidence in their computer skills and perhaps more importantly, broadened the scope of how they thought about the computer as a work tool. One of the surprising and serendipitous outcomes of the class was the strong interdepartmental connections that were made during the training. Students gained a much better appreciation of other departments in the company through opening up lines of communication between them in class,” said Mann.

Mann’s approach to teaching is to balance a relaxed, fun, and interactive classroom with meeting the learning objectives.

“I feel very strongly that the classroom needs to be a safe environment in which to learn,” Mann said. “Safe means an instructor who is organized and in control of the classroom, has a deep knowledge of the subject matter, and is patient and respectful of student skill levels and questions.” She wants every student to feel safe to ask questions and get the answers they need, regardless of students’ varying abilities.

Mann especially likes to stay connected with students after the computer class is over. She enjoys continuing to help her students solve problems and “build great things.”

A well-rounded individual, Mann loves the outdoors and spends time gardening, hiking and camping with her husband when they are not having fun with 2-year old grandson, Sam. Her newest endeavor is learning to play the piano, which she says is a major intellectual and dexterity challenge. “It makes the computer look easy!”

Many people in Santa Cruz County think of Mann as a programmer rather than a teacher. Her satisfied students might tell you otherwise.

Click here to view a list of Cabrillo Extension classes taught by Suzanne Mann.

Suzanne Mann   831.761.1203