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Hsieh brings laughter, fun to the classroom
By Paula King
East County Times

HsiehWhether he is conducting a lecture on a challenging scientific concept or playing music that he composes, Los Medanos College professor Durwynne Hsieh is a performer at heart.
"There is a performance aspect of giving a lecture, and I love it when they laugh at my really bad jokes," the 45-year-old biology instructor says.

After 19 years of teaching at the Pittsburg campus, Hsieh recently received the annual Teacher of the Year honor for the Contra Costa Community College District. Hsieh's colleagues at LMC selected him for the award, which rotates among the district's three colleges.

Hsieh will be recognized along with other educators from across the county at a celebration this fall.

Hsieh is admired by colleagues and students for being multitalented, funny and creative. Former colleague Jo Ann Cookman says Hsieh writes his own lab manuals to make sure the lessons are interesting and relevant to the pre-nursing students who take human physiology and microbiology.

"He is never boring. After 20 years, he is still fresh and comes up with new ideas," she says. "That is what makes him a great teacher. He is not stagnant."

The MIT and UC Berkeley graduate strives to make lab activities as practical as possible. For instance, Hsieh leads an experiment on chemical reactions where the students bake bread and then get to eat the data afterward.

"I do try to be fun and creative. I try to keep it light in the classroom," the Antioch resident says.

According to fellow LMC biology instructor Mark Lewis, Hsieh is a naturally gifted teacher who was hired full time right out of grad school, which is rare at community colleges. Lewis describes him as a calm, humorous and creative academic who introduced two popular lab manuals to the science department, and designed group lab activities that foster classroom camaraderie and student interaction.

"Great teachers like Durwynne are all aware that teaching is a skill that can never be fully mastered because there is no one perfect way to teach all students in all classes. Every semester is like a new dance with a new partner, and Durwynne is always trying out new moves and adjusting to his new partners," Lewis says.

Hsieh says he has remained at the community college level because of the unique student population, from self-motivated learners to those with language barriers. Hsieh says he also enjoys working with nursing students because they are so motivated.

"The thing I like about the LMC students is that they receive my teaching very gratefully. I feel like I can do some good there, and they need me," he says.

His animated personality made science fun for former student Jennifer Stuart.

"He makes his subject pretty interesting," she said. "Biology is one of my favorite subjects because of him."

When he is not improving the educational atmosphere at LMC, Hsieh composes classical music with the cello and piano. The accomplished musician performs at local gigs, and he composed his debut piece in the first grade.

Hsieh's love of music and passion for education come from his Chinese parents. They stressed assimilation, and they exposed him to classical music while growing up in upstate New York.

"I had the chemistry set when I was a kid. I would go around the neighborhood, and get old TVs and take them apart and figure out how they worked," he says. "My mom was a teacher, so I always saw myself as a teacher."

Paula King covers East County. Reach her at 925-779-7189 or pking@bayareanewsgroup.com.