Dr. Steve Itaya, left, and Mario Moreno have been named distinguished faculty members at San Joaquin Delta College.
'Distinguished': Two Delta professors honored for service
Alex Breitler
July 29, 2019

One taught his students the science of anatomy. The other, the art of painting.

But where their disciplines differ, Delta professors Steve Itaya and Mario Moreno are acclaimed for one common trait: service to students.

Itaya, who recently retired, and Moreno were named by their peers as Delta's "distinguished faculty" for the 2018-19 school year. These are their legacies.

'Making Delta students shine'

By their very nature, the anatomy and physiology courses taught by Steve Itaya during his 14 years at Delta College were not easy.

Especially not for students who were trying to raise families or hold down jobs while also attending school.

Itaya, of course, knew all of this. That’s why he went out of his way to give these students every possible chance to succeed.

When a difficult test was looming, he would come to campus on weekends and open up his lab for students to study. He doubled his office hours and invited students to get a jump start on class by visiting his lab two weeks before each semester began.

He helped his students obtain textbooks and took them on field trips to UC Davis to familiarize them with a university setting.

“Dr. Itaya is committed to making Delta students shine, not only on this campus, but in the programs they transfer to and in their careers,” wrote faculty colleagues Robert Knudsen, Thomas Adamson and Scott Bender. “What he does for his students is matched by no other person we know.”

Itaya’s recent recognition as a distinguished faculty member is only appropriate, since he retired at the same time. His work is still paying off, however, for the many students he assisted over the years, including one who is in medical school at Cornell University and another who is in the master’s nursing program at Columbia.

“Those are the huge rewards of the job,” he said. “You see them move on and really achieve top notch goals that are really hard to get to.”

Having previously taught at the university level, Itaya knows what it’s like to balance teaching with research. He found the community college experience more rewarding because the focus is solely on students. “I always enjoyed the teaching,” he said. “I wanted to make sure my students had every opportunity.”

'A genuine hero'

Growing up as a migrant farm worker, Mario Moreno used to draw in chalk on discarded tomato-packing crates.

Little did anyone know that this future art professor would become such a strong advocate for the San Joaquin Valley art community – and for an untold number of community college students.

Consider just a few of his accomplishments:

• Moreno was instrumental in the opening of the L.H. Horton Gallery in 1996, making the case that visual arts without a gallery was like drama without a stage.

• He is a determined ally for Latinx, indigenous and undocumented students, most recently leading the charge for a center for undocumented students at Delta.

• Always active in the local art scene, Moreno involves his students in many public art projects which you’ve probably seen on campus or around town. Just last year he was able to get one especially ambitious student piece – a 20-foot-long mural – out of storage and onto the wall at the entrance to the College’s ESL lab, where it inspires a new generation of students.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, Moreno also helped save the life of a student who collapsed in his classroom one day in 2012.

“Professor Moreno is a genuine hero, and he is a champion for students,” wrote nominating professors Ricardo Aguilar, Adriana Brogger, Steven McCarty and Evan Wade.

Moreno, who has been at Delta for 24 years, called the award an “honor” but also deflected some of the praise. Advocating for students, he said, is simply part of the job.

“We just do what is expected of us,” he said. “We have so many great faculty, to work with them and the staff and students, that’s enough right there.”