Mary O'Brien can't look her students in the face, but that doesn't stop her from making an impression.
A faculty member at Scottsdale Community College since 1993, O'Brien has lived in Mancos for the last 11 years. All her courses on computer applications are taught via online correspondence.
According to her colleagues and students, she teaches them well.
O'Brien recently won an "Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Recognition" award from the Arizona-based Adjunct Faculty Association. Out of 437 applicants from 10 community colleges in the Phoenix metropolitan area, 135 made the first cut. Ultimately, after several more rounds of elimination, 24 professors were chosen for recognition.
"I am very honored," she said. "There (were) many applicants and I'm very pleased to have been honored in this way."
O'Brien specializes in software from the Adobe suite of programs - Photoshop, Illustrator and Dreamweaver - dealing with website and graphic design.
Instructing students remotely can be unorthodox.
"The online environment is challenging, both for them and for me," O'Brien said. "They have to be disciplined to complete their homework on a timely basis. I have to be disciplined to respond to student questions...and grade homework within the timeframe agreed upon in the syllabus."
Shelley Mowery, a web design student, appreciates O'Brien's demeanor and consistency: "She is enthusiastic and encouraging, which is a plus in any teacher. However, she is also organized and attentive, which is essential when teaching an online class, particularly one as involved as Photoshop."
Sheila Brandt, chair of the Computer Information Systems department at SCC, called O'Brien an "intelligent, articulate, passionate and diligent faculty member."
"She is the consummate professional," Brandt wrote in a letter recommending O'Brien for the award. "Always prepared, enthusiastic about and committed to teaching her students."