Cherished adjunct teacher, mentor fighting cancer
GCU News Bureau
Joe Popma, a College of Education adjunct faculty member who has taught traditional as well as online courses at Grand Canyon University since 1994, is battling brain cancer.
Most recently, Popma was a faculty supervisor for teacher candidates as well as principal interns. A specialist in elementary education, he inspired and mentored thousands of students in his 66 years of teaching.
“I love GCU, and I wanted to break the record and teach until I was 90!” said Popma, 87.
“Joe Popma was much beloved by his students and colleagues. He was passionate about preparing future educators and leaders,” COE Dean Dr. Kimberly LaPrade said. “He never stopped learning. I remember when Zoom first came on the scene, Joe was one of our first instructors to pilot the technology with his class. He was always looking for ways to engage his students and serve as a role model.”
Popma worked as faculty in GCU’s first distance learning program, which delivered content via VHS tape, and helped develop GCU’s first online program, M.Ed. in Education Administration.
“He was always willing to facilitate extra students and classes when we needed help,” said Dave Basham, Manager of Academic Web Services for Grand Canyon Education. “An early adopter of technology, Joe saw the benefits of email, iMac computers and video conferencing before his counterparts. A technology innovator, Joe used video conferencing to work with his students, guiding struggling students to greater success with his virtual face-to-face meetings.
“Joe was a caring instructor, friend and mentor to me and so many others.”
Former COE colleague Bob Kopas remembers the time Popma was doing observations at a low-income school and noticed that the students were struggling because they did not have the electronic equipment they needed. He purchased more than 30 laptops out of his own pocket and donated them to the school so the students would be able to complete their classwork.
“Joe is the kind of person anyone would be happy to know and work with,” Kopas said. “He is kind, helpful and feels he is a servant to anyone whom he comes in contact.
“He always thought of others first and tried to help in any way he could. Anytime GCU needed help in developing a program, supervision or sitting in on evaluations, he never turned them down.”
Kelly Padilla, Executive Director of Faculty Services, said Popma fulfilled 532 site supervisor assignments, taught 673 classes and was a peer classroom reviewer for both traditional and online instructors.
Said Dr. Marjaneh Gilpatrick, Executive Director of Educational Outreach, “He truly embodied what our college is all about: learning, leading and serving. Even though he had retired from teaching and being a principal, he embraced learning. In fact, he was one of the adjuncts who was selected to demonstrate how he used various modes of technology to engage online students.”