COC’s longest-serving faculty member Don Takeda retires

COC biology and math instructor Don Takeda, center, will retire from his 46-year tenure at College of the Canyons on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017. Courtesy Photo

Source: College of the Canyons

For many, Dec. 31, 2017 will simply mark the end of a year, but for Don Takeda, it will mark the end of a 46-year teaching career at College of the Canyons. 

As the college’s longest serving faculty member, Takeda was hired as a biology and math instructor on Jan. 1, 1972, which he chalks up to pure serendipity. 

“I wasn’t looking for a job,” said Takeda, whose love for biology began on his family’s raisin farm in California’s Central Valley. 

Takeda had just finished his graduate botanical science studies at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) at the end of the fall quarter when his major professor encouraged his application to the position at COC, “for the experience.” 

COC, then only a three-year-old campus, was made up of modular buildings.

“I initially thought, ‘Would I want to work here?'” Takeda said.

And with no teaching experience to speak of, he had little expectation of securing the job. 

“The way it happened was unlike today’s procedures,” said Takeda, who came in for a single interview on a Friday afternoon. The committee consisted of Gary Mouck, Vice-President and Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, Mildred Guernsey (Mathematics) and Jim Boykin (Biology).

To his surprise, Mouck called Takeda Saturday morning with the job offer.   With COC’s winter quarter set to begin and only one week to prepare before classes started, Takeda found teaching both lecture and lab and many different courses challenging.  It took him several years until he found his stride in the classroom. 

“Community college is different from a university,” Takeda said.  “You don’t have the uniformity of 18- or 19-year-olds in the classroom.”

To be able to reach and motivate the diverse groups of students with their varied educational and experiential backgrounds added to the teaching challenges.

Fortunately, Takeda found sound guidance from Boykin, the college’s first biology professor, who would become his mentor and close friend.  Together, they built the college’s biology department and created a robust curriculum that would help students successfully transfer to four-year universities. 

“Jim would just sit down at a typewriter and churn out a course curriculum with hundreds of objectives with articulation to the UCs in mind,” Takeda said. 

When Takeda was overwhelmed by how much course content needed to be covered in class, Boykin invited him to sit in on his classes to learn from his teaching approach.  Observing his teaching of “what” as well as “how” enabled an insight of what is meant to be a true teacher.

Additional valuable lessons Boykin imparted to Takeda were the importance of respecting student diversity and to acknowledge the lasting impact of excellent education.

“Students are people, not sponges” Boykin would say, Takeda said.  “They have sensitivities and you have to adjust accordingly.” 

Takeda and Boykin watched their two-person department grow and move from modules to the permanent L-Building which was renamed the James D. Boykin Laboratory Center in Boykin’s memory. 

At the helm of the biology department, Takeda played a pivotal role in upgrading molecular-cellular biology and organismal biology courses, developing a biotechnology program and re-emphasizing field studies that provide broad and diverse life science educational opportunities for all students. 

“It’s been amazing,” Takeda said of the college’s growth and evolution.  “This is where Chancellor Van Hook has been proficient.  Her reputation to generate funding preceded her.”

Chancellor Van Hook supported the department’s pursuit of a National Science Foundation instrumentation grant for a proposed “certificate in biotechnology” program in 1995. 

“NSF grants for community colleges were not highly supported back then,” Takeda said. “But she said, ‘Let’s try for it.'”

The grant was not awarded but funding was realized for remodeling an existing lab to accommodate the innovative program.  Takeda provided oversight for the remodel of the biology classrooms and laboratories in Boykin Hall and was instrumental in the design and development of Aliso Hall and Aliso Lab.

At COC, Takeda not only found his calling as an educator, but it’s also where he met his wife, Cindee Robinson, in an explosive manner – almost.

As a newly hired lab technician, Robinson found crystallized picric acid, a highly explosive compound, during a safety check of the central lab.  Knowing the safety concerns to students and college personnel, she immediately called the fire department that brought out the hazardous materials team and averted potential harm.  Robinson’s quick-thinking impressed Takeda. 

What Takeda is proudest of are the students who were inspired by his biology classes to pursue biology-related professions that include many registered nurses at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. 

When his mother broke her hip and was transported to Henry Mayo, many of his former students thought it was he when they saw ‘Takeda’ on the hospital admittance log.

“When I got there, they were disappointed because they thought they were going to get their revenge,” Takeda said.  “But when it turned out to be my mom, she received the best of care.” 

During his tenure at COC, Takeda has worked under the leadership of five different Superintendent-Presidents and has witnessed the transformation of the Valencia campus and is looking forward to the development of the Canyon Country campus.

He has also seen the biology department grow from a two-person department to one that now includes nine full-time faculty, six full-time technical staff and more than 30 adjunct instructors.

Takeda served as lead faculty/chair of the college’s biology department for over 25 years before passing on the baton to professor Miriam Golbert in 2008 so that he could again focus on teaching. 

He plans to teach microbiology as an adjunct instructor at the Valencia campus and in the future Science Building at Canyon Country.

Takeda’s retirement plans also include spending time with his family and attending the college graduations of his daughter Phoebe from Kent State University and son Cameron from CSULA.  Both are former COC students. 

“It’s been challenging but stimulating; and with terrific students, colleagues and friendships – enjoyable!” Takeda said.  “There hasn’t been a day that has not been active. What keeps you going and why 46 years can go by in a flash is based upon how engaged you are.  If the days are tedious and cumbersome, then it truly becomes a job.”

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