Longtime Glendale Community College professor and administrator Ron Harlan, credited with establishing the biology majors program and championing a Baja field station, is retiring after nearly 33 years on the job.
Harlan, 61, bid farewell to colleagues and students Tuesday with a science lecture titled “A biologist reflects on our life and times.”
“I really enjoy interacting with students,” Harlan said as he reflected on his career. “I really liked teaching a lot. I liked counseling students, helping them find their way in life. I think that is really important.”
Raised partly in Burma, now known as Myanmar, where his father was studying as a Rhodes Scholar, Harlan attended Chabot Community College in the Bay Area before transferring to Cal State Hayward. He went on to earn his master’s degree and doctorate at UC Santa Barbara and UCLA, respectively.
After working as a community college adjunct professor, he was hired full time at Glendale in January 1979.
Soon after, his bosses told Harlan that he would be responsible for creating the college’s biology majors program, a specific academic track for those students wanting to pursue science degrees as undergraduates and beyond.
“Here I was, this guy fresh out of graduate school, who just kind of started building this program by learning and getting to know the people at UCLA,” Harlan said.
He added college-level biochemistry and molecular biology to the course offerings, Harlan said, and started working directly with UCLA to ensure the level of rigor was acceptable.
In the early 1990s, UCLA overhauled the community college science courses it would accept from transfer students. The change created a logistical mess for community colleges trying to ensure their graduates were prepared to make the leap to the four-year institution.
“It created a real problem for all community colleges, and I ultimately ended up working with UCLA in sponsoring a symposium that brought together the UCLA faculty and all the area biology people,” Harlan said. “It really put Glendale on the map because we took the lead on a problem UCLA couldn’t solve.”
The Glendale Community College biology majors program is now a huge success story, colleagues said.
“He has really developed a great program over the years that is recognized as one of the best in area,” said math professor Mike Allen.
A marine biologist by trade, Harlan was a champion of Glendale Community College’s marine biology field station, located on the Baja peninsula eight hours south of the U.S.-Mexico border.
The biology professor also held numerous faculty leadership positions, serving as president of the faculty union, and vice president of the Academic Senate in the mid-1980s.
He has served as dean of instruction services since 2006, and will continue as a consultant with the college after he enters retirement.
President/Supt. Dawn Lindsay said she would especially miss Harlan’s candor and sense of humor.
“Dr. Harlan’s understanding of student and faculty need is exemplified in his leadership style,” Lindsay said. “He is approachable, flexible, innovative and creative. He seeks to create an instructional environment that inspires greater depths of learning.”