Retired De Anza professor plays big role in student life since 1967


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“Hell no, we won’t go” and “drop acid not bombs” chanted student marchers on Stevens Creek in protest against Vietnam War. Imagine going back in time, back to the 60’s and 70’s every Friday to join fellow De Anza students in protesting, chanting and inviting professors to join them.  Can you see it?

Doug Cheeseman, professor emeritus of Biology at De Anza College, didn’t have to imagine it; he was there.  Cheeseman has seen a lot in his 30 year teaching stint at De Anza starting from the very first day the college opened in 1967.  


He was part of the first faculty group that Robert DeHart, De Anza president at the time, hired before De Anza opened.  DeHart traveled all over the country scouting for the best educators for De Anza, finding Cheeseman at University of Colorado at Boulder working on a P.H.D.

Cheeseman radiated warmth, enthusiasm and humor as he shared his experiences at De Anza. From installing light bulbs and setting up biology labs before the first days of De Anza to the creation of Cheeseman Environmental Studies Area (ESA), Cheeseman has played an instrumental role in shaping De Anza.

His passion, generosity, kindness, openness and commitment to teaching and developing the Biology department continues to impact De Anza to this very day and in the best way.


Take FHDA Chancellor Judy Miner words as she describes Cheeseman as going “above and beyond duties of a teacher. Generous, humble and calm presence.”


Or you could take a biology class or step into Cheeseman ESA, located in the South East corner of campus, and actually witness his legacy ~ vibrant and alive like Cheeseman himself.


From 1971 on, Cheeseman transformed an acre and a half of empty space to a thriving and beautiful bio-diverse community of California native plants, walking paths, hills and flowing stream and ponds.


Cheeseman noted that he had always wanted an on campus field study area. So, one day in 1970 he asked former president De Hart, “Hey Bob, wouldn’t it be cool if we had a pond on campus in that open area over there?”


De Hart responded generously to Cheeseman, suggesting the use of a larger unused 1.5 acre area. Since the head of P.E. at the time, Edie Pursu also wanted use of the area for handball courts, De Hart said ”Whoever can come up with the money first (to fund their project) could use the area.”  Well, the rest is history.


Within a year marked by persistence and dedication, Cheeseman secured funding for the ESA.  Most of the funding came from a Federal Grant – National Defense Education Act Grant that he had applied for.


The grant covered basic expenses but not enough for all the plants and materials needed for the area.  His creativity and resourcefulness remedied this lack by reaching out to the community and students.  Cheeseman went to local nurseries “begging” for native California plant donations.


He also held “rock parties”.  After receiving permission from the county and state of California, he recruited students to come with him to collect rocks from streams and ponds to put in the ESA.  Not only was Cheeseman good at getting results but he was also great with people and building community while having fun; holding barbeques was a core aspect of  these “rock parties”.


Though Cheeseman’s only regret is retiring too early from teaching at De Anza, he continues his passion for wildlife conservation and teaching through leading ecology safari’s throughout the world and his continued involvement with ESA.

When Cheeseman isn’t travelling the world, leading safaris, he visits the ESA once a week and meets with ESA coordinator Diana Martinez to get updates and discuss their shared passions for ESA and nature in general.


Martinez describes Cheeseman as “energetic and passionate.”

Even after his retirement, Cheeseman is actively involved with ESA not just a passive observer.  For example, Cheeseman helped Martinez repair cracks in the rock infrastructure that holds a medium sized waterfall in the ESA.


Passion for teaching and wildlife conservation sustains and motivates Cheeseman.  He loved teaching at De Anza, in particular, connecting with students and sharing his other passion with them, hoping that he could “turn them on” to biology, wildlife conservation, and helping the earth.   

What makes Cheeseman so amazing is not only his contributions to De Anza but also his character: his kindness, humility, generosity, enthusiasm, warmth, openness and selflessness.  He is an overall good human being who has contributed voraciously; these two elements coupled together make Cheeseman a rare gem of a person.   

If you ever get a chance to meet Cheeseman, take the opportunity to talk with him and you will know, firsthand what I’ve been talking about.


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1 Comment
  • Janet McClellan

    I was lucky to be his student in 1973 and will always be learning from his examples and passion! Doug Cheeseman found a way to keep in touch for a lifetime with his family travel business. Truly an amazing human being! Keep on!