Head Shot of Dr. Joy Polanco O'Neil
Joy Polanco O'Neil, Ph.D.
TLC Director; Distance Education Coordinator; California Virtual Campus Project Lead, Peer Online Course Review Faculty Lead
Teaching & Learning Center
TLC and Virtual


Ph.D. Education, Prescott College

Master's: Water Resources, UNM

Bachelor of Science: Environmental Science/Geology, NAU

Community College Educational Licensure Certificate Program in Education

Educational Research

I hold a Ph.D. in Sustainability Education from Prescott College, Arizona, USA where I studied intra-active pedagogies, and transformative learning in adult and higher education. Asking the simple yet complex question, “how do we learn,” I took a reflexive inquiry approach and living story methodology to examine “traditional” teaching practices. I examined and theorized how and in what ways affective/emotion and social neuroscience, systems thinking, and performative cognitive development can contribute to the understanding of learning and change. It was evident that lecture and rote learning was transmissive and at best a transactional learning process while teaching methods that engaged the whole person was inclusive and equitable with the potential to be transformative, therefore, sustainable.

Educational Practice

Education being the career that chose me, I have served as a leader, educator, and practitioner in formal and non-formal education for 25 years in the Southwest, Midwest USA, and in Japan. Holding a Bachelors of Science and Masters's degree in the environmental sciences, I contribute my ecological knowledge to my design thinking process in instructional technology and complex learning systems. With a multi-disciplinary academic background, I have taught an array of courses from English as a Second Language, environmental, and sustainability science, to pluralism for educators, sustainable leadership and learning organizations, curriculum and program development, and adult transformative learning.

I have trained faculty in online course and program design and have practiced in online, hybrid, low residency, and novel learning spaces such as a kitchen lab, a garden, and a watershed through teaching methods such as project-based, problem-based, community-based, integrated, whole person, and experiential....to name a few. My passion is to explore ways to learn and lead that can truly engage others and inspiring them to sustain their teaching and learning journey into a profession toward a sustainable future.

My Background

I am a community college graduate and was a transfer student; I was an intercollegiate basketball athlete that paid my ticket to college. As a first-generation college graduate and first-generation Mexican-Polish-Russian American, my family saught a better life by emigrating to Seaside, California and Chicago, Illinois and joined the workforce in restaurant and agricultural work. I am cognizant of the adversity to attain a livelihood. I was told daily about how education will be my lifeline. I share my roots because I hold them close to me bringing my authentic self and realities everywhere I go. I am of the belief that we need to be brave to share these realities in order to empathize and humanize learning within our teaching practice. Teaching and learning is not a one size fits all.

Last but not least, I come to Cabrillo from Ashland, Oregon, USA with my family. In my free time, you can find me enjoying being outside in the natural world with them or creating something with my hands be it pottery, making lotion and other household products, cooking, or gardening. I also enjoy writing, collaborating or consulting on academic and community proejcts.