By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
On Dec. 1, the College of the Canyons (COC) in Santa Clarita will officially name its new science building in recognition of biology instructor Don Takeda. Located on the Canyon Country campus, the Don Takeda Science Center is a 55,000-square-foot building primarily devoted to the physical and biological sciences and serves as a focal point for students and first-time visitors.
Takeda, who retired in 2017 after 46 years, was the school’s longest-serving faculty member. The Santa Clarita Community College District Board of Trustees voted in August on the naming to honor Takeda for his decades of leadership, energy and commitment to fostering the development of the sciences departments at COC, including math, science and engineering.
As biology professor, Takeda taught many current and past faculty members and served as faculty member, department lead faculty/chair, division chair, and committee chair for numerous committees.
In the resolution, the college district stated that the naming would honor Takeda’s “lifetime of dedication, excellence in teaching and commitment to expand the access, engagement and success of the students of College of the Canyons.”
“It’s an incredible honor, it is something you never really think about and then it happens,” Takeda said, speaking to The Rafu Shimpo.
COC faculty initially brought the resolution before the board in 2020, but a decision on the naming was delayed, as was everything else, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am honored that the faculty would present this before the board,” he said. “But anything that gets put on the back burner, you wonder if it will be rekindled. It came to fruition again this year and was approved in August.”
Construction of the Don Takeda Science Center was funded by Measure E, the $230 million bond measure that was approved by local voters in June 2016. The new science center reflects the remarkable growth of COC, which has two campuses, Valencia and Canyon Country, and serves more than 30,000 students each year.
Takeda said the new science center fits in an era when the mantra “follow the science” has become so critical. He noted that COC has excellent programs in nursing, dental hygiene and other public health fields.
“The science center is coming online right now and will be associated with getting students into frontline careers in public health and health professionals as well as into STEM majors. It’s going to be there now for this community and I know the high schools have been doing a good job getting students excited about the sciences,” Takeda said.
“That’s why this particular honor is more reflective of the faculty in general who have been outstanding.”
Takeda recalled the early days when the Valencia campus was cattlefields and teaching also meant physical work to get labs and classes ready. He was hired on Jan. 1, 1972 as a biology and math instructor, right after finishing his graduate degree at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA).
He interviewed at COC for the experience and to his amazement was offered the job.
Takeda credits his mentor, Jim Boykin, COC’s first biology professor, for giving invaluable guidance and instilling a passion for teaching. Boykin passed in 1985 at age 59. Takeda helped pioneer and expand the Biology Department and initiated the naming of Boykin Hall for his mentor.
“Jim Boykin was quite the educator and humanitarian. He was a 24-7 educator. His house is always open,” Takeda recalled. “I would always go there on weekends and he would have groups of students working, he would be tutoring and helping them out, conducting a class in his house.”
“With that kind of mentoring, that’s the persona that I learned, how to teach; otherwise if you want to just be a professor you can give students all kinds of information and they would get bogged down with that. You don’t want that, you want them to be engaged and inspired.”
Chancellor Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook and the Santa Clarita Community College District Board of Trustees will be in attendance for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. After the ceremony, there will be some tours of the facility.
“Some of the labs are state-of-the-art, using wireless, digital instrumentation, it makes it quite different from basic hands-on labs, but it’s much more engaging and I think it will be associated with the way students are digitally oriented today. It’s exciting for them,” he said.
Takeda will be joined at the special event by his wife, Cindee Robinson, and kids, Phoebe and Cameron. The entire family is truly part of the College of the Canyons community. Robinson teaches microbiology and both Phoebe and Cameron are former COC students.
After COC, Phoebe attended Kent State and now teaches fashion, fibers and materials at CSULA. Cameron received his master’s degree in philosophy from CSULA and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from UC Berkeley.
Takeda still hears from students and even recalled seeing some of his former students, now nurses, when he recently underwent cataract surgery. He is proud of the fact that many of his former students have gone on to careers in biology-related fields, including doctors and nurses.
“I just got an email from ex-student from the 1970s who lives on the East Coast. Now a physician, he said his experience at COC straightened him out and because of that, he is who he is today, Takeda said.