Retired De Anza professor plays big role in student life since 1967
By Casy Hsu, Staff Reporter
De Anza College students marched down Stevens Creek Boulevard, their anti-war chants filling the air: “Hell no, we won’t go!” and “Drop acid, not bombs.” Imagine going back in time to the ‘60s and ‘70s to join students in protesting, chanting and inviting faculty to join them. Can you see it?
Doug Cheeseman, professor emeritus of biology, didn’t have to imagine it; he was there. Cheeseman has seen a lot in his 30 years teaching at De Anza, starting from the day the college opened in 1967.
He was part of the faculty group hand-picked before the school’s opening by Robert DeHart, De Anza’s first president. DeHart traveled all over the country scouting for the best educators for De Anza. It was at the University of Colorado at Boulder that he found Cheeseman, then working on a Ph.D.
From installing light bulbs and setting up biology labs before the school’s opening to the creation of the Cheeseman Environmental Studies Area (ESA), Cheeseman has played an instrumental role in shaping De Anza.
To understand his impact, one might talk to his colleagues: FHDA Chancellor Judy Miner describes Cheeseman as going “above and beyond duties of a teacher” and commends his “generous, humble and calm presence.” Or you could step into the ESA, located in the southeast corner of campus, and witness his legacy – vibrant and full of life, like Cheeseman himself. He radiated warmth, enthusiasm and humor as he shared his experiences at De Anza- recalling most vividly the ESA’s creation.
Starting in 1971, Cheeseman transformed an acre and a half of empty space to a thriving bio-diverse community of native plants, winding paths, flowing streams and picturesque ponds.
He had always wanted an on-campus field study area. One day in 1970 he asked then-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, suggesting the use of an even larger area. Since Edie Pursu, head of physical education, wanted the area for handball courts, De Hart granted the land to “whoever can come up with the money first.”
The rest is history.
After a year of persistence, Cheeseman secured funding for the ESA, most of which came from a National Defense Education Act grant.
The grant covered basic expenses but wasn’t enough for all necessary materials. Showcasing his resourcefulness, he reached out to the community and students. Cheeseman went to local nurseries “begging” for native California plant donations.
With state permissions, he recruited students to collect rocks from streams and ponds to put in the ESA. Not only was Cheeseman good at getting results, he was great at building community while having fun; holding barbeques was a core aspect of these “rock parties”.
Though Cheeseman claims to regret retiring too early from teaching, he continues to enact his passion for wildlife conservation and teaching by leading ecology safaris throughout the world.
When he isn’t travelling, Cheeseman is still actively involved with maintenance of the ESA, meeting once a week with coordinator Diana Martinez, who describes him as “energetic and passionate.”
Beyond his contributions to De Anza, what makes Cheeseman so notable is his character. His humility, generosity and selflessness have left a mark on our campus and in the lives of his students, who he sought to inspire and connect with.
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.