Northeastern Junior College recognizes six dedicated retirees

Instructors and structural tradesmen have given a combined 143 years of service

By CALLIE JONES | | Sterling Journal-Advocate
PUBLISHED: May 6, 2022 at 10:38 a.m. | UPDATED: May 6, 2022 at 10:38 a.m.

May 6, 2022

Northeastern Junior College is bidding farewell to a dedicated group of employees who have left a lasting legacy. Brad Coats, structural trades II technician; David Coles, chemistry/astronomy instructor; Shelby Nichols, chemistry instructor; Mike Vair, math instructor; Doug Werner, structural trades II technician; and Tracy Yahn, EMS and fire safety coordinator, who represent a combined 143 total years of service to the college, were recognized at a retirement reception Thursday.

“We have six outstanding retirees this year and it’s very difficult to say goodbye to them,” said Steve Smith, vice president of student services.

Coats has served NJC for 22 years continuously.  Tracey Knox, director of the physical plan, called him a great electrician and good person to know.

“He’s always friendly, always willing to go the extra mile to help anyone out. He’s a great worker and I’m sorry to see him leave,” Knox said.

Werner has served NJC for 14 years. Knox called him a great locksmith and one of the best carpenters he’s ever known, particularly skilled at building cabinetry.

“He’s always willing to come in no matter what and say ‘hey, give me a call if you have a problem with a lock or anything.’ He’s done a great job,” Knox said.

Nichols is in her 29th full-time year at NJC. She’s taught primarily inorganic and organic chemistry courses, assisted with the Math and Science Club and she has been instrumental in recycling on the campus.

She also has several years of service on the safety committees and she has worked to bring numerous health initiatives to campus. Plus, she enjoys helping with the culture fair and is always great about sharing the food traditions and cultures from all around the world with NJC students.

“Shelby is known for her compassion and her empathetic heart. She has shown more flexibility to accommodate students than anyone I know, she comes in on the weekend, she comes in during evenings, she has study sessions, she athletes making up labs, she changes lab times to accommodate athletes. She truly goes above and beyond to help students succeed,” said Brenda Zink, chair of the science, technology, engineering and math department.

Nichols cares about her students like they are her own children, and is so dedicated to them that even when she was having some issues while pregnant she didn’t call in sick, she just taught lying down in front of the room. She helps students transition on to the next stage of their education and Zink said it is awesome how many students come back many years later to see her and others in the department.

Nichols shared that when she and her husband, Dave Coles, first came to Sterling in the summer of 1993, they thought they would only be here for a couple of years, but soon they found they didn’t want to leave.

“It’s been great, a great place to raise kids. We met lots of wonderful people,” she said.

Some of her fondest memories are taking students hiking and caving on the Math and Science Club’s annual trip to Utah.

Coles, who retired last year with a transition year this year, has served NJC full-time for 25 years. He has taught astronomy, geology, chemistry and environmental science for most of his time at Northeastern. For three years before starting full-time, he was an adjunct professor teaching history and science.

Before teaching, Coles worked in the field as a geologist and often brought that real world experience into his classroom. In addition to teaching, he has always helped with the Math and Science Club, taking over sponsorship in 2016. He was also on the advising committee for the quality of student life and learning, diversity committee and the faculty senate.

“If you needed him, Dave was there to serve,” Zink said. “Dave is known for her quiet demeanor and for his compassion. His classes were always filled with the non-majors, so Dave worked tirelessly to help those students love science and to succeed.”

Coles is innovative in his instruction, and was the first one to really take Nearpod on, incorporate it and use it successfully in all of his classes, and he can always be counted on to help.

“It’s been so wonderful working with all of you folks, I’ve enjoyed it very much and I think it was probably one of the best decisions of my life to stay in Sterling and teach,” he said.

Vair has served NJC for 28 years. He taught physics and math courses early in his career and then switched to all math courses seven or ten years ago.

In addition to teaching, he has mentored the concurrent enrollment math teachers and was instrumental in creating a common final for every college algebra class being taught both on campus and in the local high schools, to ensure that every student regardless of their location was learning the same material and had the same high standards. Vair also set up common homework assignments for the same reason.  Plus, he served on the curriculum and instruction committee for many years.

“Mike is also known for his innovative teacher and he is a master with technology,” Zink said, discussing his use of the Microsoft Surface tablet and how he convinced NJC officials to use Perkins funds to purchase a Surface for all faculty members in the math department, as iPads couldn’t be used for online homework.

In the classroom, Vair is known for giving worldly advice, “he breaks up his difficult instruction with advice that is helpful long-term to students and really makes them think,” Zink said.

“Thank you, I’ve had a wonderful time,” Vair said.

Yahn is in her 24th full-time year at the college. After getting her bachelor’s degree in business from Metro State University, she became involved with NJC’s EMS program, completing both the basic and advanced EMT certification programs. Yahn worked part-time for the private ambulance service in Logan County for 18 years.

She began serving on NJC’s EMS advisory committee in 1994 and started teaching part-time in health and safety and EMS programs in 1996. In 2000, she took over the EMS program and in 2003, her job grew, when she was handed the fire science duties of working with the local fire department to coordinate continuing education for the firefighters. During this time, Yahn was instrumental in the success of the Wildfire College, which was hosted at NJC for five years and drew over 500 firefighters for the weeklong training every January.

As a result of the Wildfire College, Yahn recognized the potential and the need for a formal fire science degree at NJC. She led the approval process through Colorado Community College System and in 2007 her job grew again, when NJC was granted approval for the AAS and Fire Science Technology Program.

In 2010, the health and safety program was added to her job duties, making her responsible for coordinating CPR and first aid course offerings.

NJC’s EMS program continues to offer EMS classes at off campus locations, with Yahn serving Julesburg, Holyoke, Peetz and Yuma. When she’s not out on the road, her job also includes grant writing. She has received and managed over $490,000 in grant funds used for EMS education scholarships.

“Although Tracy’s workload kept increasing, so has her love for the field. Tracy is always positive, she takes every opportunity to stay up-to-date and we all know the need is ever increasing to train and to keep new EMTs and firefighters, so I’m very grateful that Tracy will help continue the success of our EMS, fire, health and safety,” Zink said.

Yahn said she when she first took over the EMS program she wasn’t sure she wanted the job. At that time, her children were little and she wanted to be a full-time mom, but when the college said they would work with her children’s schedule she decided to give it a try. It’s a decision she hasn’t regretted.

“I want to express my thankfulness to God for putting me in the right place at the right time to be here. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that God placed me here,” Yahn said, telling the audience “the favorite thing about this job is you all; the relationships that I’ve built are deep. Thank you; I have a lot of great memories from you all.”

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