Interview with Chemistry Professor Dr. Terry Ng. by Maram Bader

The following interview is the complete interview of chemistry professor Dr. Ng.

WCC boasts of being on the list of the top 25 community colleges in California! (which means total bragging rights by the way!) but what got us there was the small faculty to student ratio. We are lucky to have small class sizes that allow us  to really get to know our professors and for them to know us. So we at The Eagle’s Call are pleased to brings to you an interview with WCC’s very own, Dr. Terry Ng.


Maram: Hello Professor! First thank you so much for doing this interview!

Dr.Ng: No problem, Im happy to do it.


First and foremost, what classes do you teach here at WCC?
I teach Introductory Chemistry (2A), General Chemistry(1A,1B), and Organic Chemistry (18A,18B). I also teach at UC Davis. I teach General Chemistry (Chem 2ABC) and Intro to Organic Chemistry (8A)   


What’s your favorite memory at WCC so far?

I haven’t been at WCC for long, but my favorite memory would probably be the starting of the Chemistry Club this semester. It’s a student-run club so I get to see first hand how the students are taking the material I’m teaching them and applying it outside of class. I get to start interacting with students outside of class and see their perspective on chemistry.

What should students do to improve the WCC campus?
They should let their voices be heard. Its amazing how fast you can see change on a smaller campus compared to a larger one. At larger campuses, most of the students dont see the change happen throughout the time they’re there, whereas at a small campus like WCC, you can see a change happen within the same year.


How does teaching here differ from teaching at Davis?
The biggest thing is class size. My class size here is about 20-24 students, compared to Davis which is 450-500 students. Here because the class size is so small I really get to know my students. If I see that they’re struggling I apply the material in a way that they understand it. I also get to know what their interests are, and if they have questions I can fit it to the field they’re going into. I also find that students learn better in smaller and more intimate class sizes. We see the consequence of a big class size at Davis, where there isn’t much student interaction. I only get to know about 6-10 students because they’re the ones consistently coming to office hours. So 10 students out of 500 is a very low percentage. There are advantages at bigger university. My T.A’s run the labs and do the grading for me. The pay is higher there as well. But ultimately, you see more success when its a smaller class size.


Why did you choose UC Davis as an undergrad?
I chose UC Davis because I still wanted to be close to my parents, but I didn’t want to live so far away to the point that I had to travel by plane. And I didn’t want to live so close that I would have to commute. I wanted to live on campus and get the full college experience.


Why did you major in Chemistry? How did you know it was right for you?
I always liked science and math as a kid, so I always knew I wanted to do something involving that. But why I chose chemistry specifically was because I had a really great teacher in highschool who taught it in a fun and exciting way.He would do lots of demos that were interesting and more importantly he made the material understandable. Thats the key idea. Instructors can lecture and show demos as much as they want, but it has to be understandable, so that we as students can find an application for it. So I knew going into college that that’s what I wanted to major in. But I also reached out to my other interests. I have a minor in Computer Science because that was something I am also interested in.


What was your favorite memory as an undergrad?
Graduation. [Laughs] I don’t mean that in a bad way. My undergraduate experience was a great one, but when you get to graduation you really feel accomplished. You feel the outcome from all the work you put in for the past 4+ years. My family was also extremely happy for me. They were supportive of me, so it was their accomplishment too. Even at WCC, I’m sure when students graduate with their Associates, they feel accomplished and proud. For any student, graduation will be a defining and huge moment of their college experience.

What was something that shocked you when you were in undergrad?
For me, it was the effects of peer pressure. Some students see it the first day of college. Some even see it before college even starts because they have a welcome week where many parties happen. I’ve unfortunately known people who put themselves in situations they shouldn’t have. We always hear about problems like drugs, drug overdose, underage drinking, alcohol poisoning, alcohol abuse, student suicide, and mostly students not knowing how to say no. And again, most of these students are away from home for the first time, so they don’t really know how to control themselves. But they’re adults now and they should know about the consequences of their actions. Some students actually just don’t care, but they shouldn’t pull someone who cares into that. So I always tell students that they have to learn how to say no and that if someone was really your friend, they wouldn’t pressure you into something you’re uncomfortable with. Also another thing most students don’t realize that there are people to talk to. There’s a whole building dedicated to this as UC Davis, its called CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services). There is even programs here that help, there’s a counselor at WCC campus at all times. And the thing is, you’re never alone. You may think you’re the only one with problems, but there is always someone that is worse off than you. Not everything is going to be easy, but when you go through obstacles and hard times, it makes it more worth it when you get out of it and how rewarding it will feel when you get out of it.

What clubs were you in as an undergrad?
I was actually not in any clubs as an undergrad. Back then it was hard to know what was going on because things weren’t openly known. There was no texts or emails back then, not even flyers around campus. Everything happened by word of mouth, so it all depended on who you knew. And unfortunately I didn’t hear about clubs around campus. They weren’t as easy to start as they are these days.

What’s your favorite part of chemistry?
For me its definitely demos. Finding demos that prove a point but also ones that students can recreate at home. Thats what I find exciting. When I find an experiment that involves chemicals (that aren’t dangerous) that students might have at home, they can demonstrate it and show others and maybe show off a little. [Laughs] They can show others what they’re learning in class and create a chain interest in science.I think everyone has some interest in science but it just has to come out with the right medium and I think demos are great for that.

What is something your students don’t know about you?
Hmmm. I actually entered college when I was 17. Something they also might not know is that I was a really smart kid. I actually won my first scholarship in the first grade. I think the prize was about $500.  Maram: Wow thats amazing! What did you do with the money from the scholarship? I gave it to my parents and asked them to buy me a guinea pig. They ended up getting me 4. [laughs] Another thing my students probably don’t know about me is that for about 3-4 years I used to gamble and actually lived off that in graduate school. I was actually pretty good at it, but I never went too far or lost too much. I always made sure I would get back what I lost. Maram: Well if you were good at it, why did you stop? Well I used to go to the Cache Creek Casino, and back then the age limit was 18 not 21. So when it got to the point that I started seeing some of my students there, I thought that maybe this isn’t the best example for them….and it was kind of awkward.

Did you have a nickname in undergrad?
I didn’t have one in undergrad, but I did have one in high school. At Award Night the high school student council gave ever senior their official nickname. Mine was “Brainiac.” [laughs]

What contributed to your success as an undergraduate student?
Study groups. For me specifically, I was more of a teacher in the study group than a ‘student’. I realized that learning the material is quite different than teaching it to someone else, you have to really know the material. Also time management is a big one. Most college students are away from home for the first time and don’t have their parents or guardians around to help them manage their time for them. So when it comes down to it, you’re on your own and you have to find a balance. But also going off of that, you have to give yourself time to relax. School is important and students are paying a lot of money to be there but you have to relax and distress. Even if it’s a half an hour watching your favorite show, you should do it. More often than not, people work so hard in school and don’t take any breaks, and soon enough they burn out. So work hard, find your balance, and relax.


How did you de-stress as a student?
For me it was sports. I played a lot of intramural sports at college. Me and all my friends would get together and join an intramural league. I played intramural basketball, softball, soccer, and flag football. There’s plenty more sports at Davis but those were the ones I was in. When the weather started to get cold, the sports wouldn’t be as active, so I actually would watch sports on T.V.

Do you think that being in those study groups and teaching others the material inspired you to teach?
Definitely. Joining the study groups showed me that not only could I learn the material and teach it to someone else, it showed me that I could teach.  When I started getting positive feedback and comments, teaching became an option in my mind. Many people would actually would mention that I should go into teaching before I did, and this actually started as early as high school. In my senior year, I was in AP calculus and I was actually pretty good at it. To put it in perspective, I would only go to class because it was mandatory. I would self study before class, so that I knew the material when I got to class. Other students started to ask for help and that later turned into an after school teaching session where I would further explain the material. Seeing that I helped my friends really encouraged me and showed me that I was good at teaching.

I worked as a TA in undergrad because as PhD students, you have to T.A for at least 2 years. I found that I really enjoyed teaching.

Who was your favorite professor at Davis?
My favorite professor was Carlito Lebrilla. He taught me Intro to Chem and an Analytical Chemistry Lab and I actually ended up doing undergraduate research with him. He was a laid back professor. He wasn’t always serious which led him to be more approachable, which led me to do well in the class.  Another favorite professor was one I got to know in graduate school was Gang-Yu Liu. She taught me microscopy. She, like Lebrilla,  presented the material in a fun way and she would always crack jokes in the middle of class, which actually makes you want to come to class.

If you could do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
I probably would’ve been more active in clubs. I also would’ve looked into options the campus had like study abroad. More importantly, I would really go back and take advantage of being a student. You’re tuition is the same regardless of how many classes you take, so I would go back and take more classes I was interested in. If you were to graduate and take the classes after, it would cost way more. So do it while you’re there and while you can. I would’ve also taken advantage of trying to get more internship, because that’s something that’s important these days. They want that experience that internships give you.

Best advice you got as an undergrad?
Keep an open mind. Students generally have an idea of a path they want to take, but you never know what or who will set you on a different path.You never know what class or what friend or what conversation will really open your mind to new ideas and show you a different way of looking at things. Also, you can’t change the past so pursue the side interests you have now because as you get older, you might not get those chances again. Make sure you don’t have any ‘what if’s’ to look back on. Also, don’t limit or restrain yourself. Students get caught up in finishing college as soon as possible, but in reality the path to the final goal doesn’t always have to be a straight line.

And the question that I’ve always wanted to know, do you mind that most of your students address you by your first name?
Not at all. I tell my students they can call me whatever they want, as long as it isn’t offensive. And the reason for that is I want students to be able to approach me. If I tell students to strictly call me Dr.Ng, they’re probably not going to want to talk to me, and that hinders the instructor to student relationship. That will lead to students to not want to come to office hours or ask questions. I always tell my students, that whatever they feel comfortable with is fine. One of my students calls me “Terrbear.” [Laughs]


Thank you Dr. Ng for taking the time to share your thoughts and answering our questions!