Bringing zoology back to life

Will Mullen and Will Mullen

Biology and Zoology Instructor Hisaya “Sye” Fukui has found a way to bring his two passions-fishing and teaching-together to benefit his students.

The second-year Santa Barbara City College instructor has had fishing in his blood from a young age. He got his passion for fishing from his father who was also a teacher.

Fukui landed his first fish at age three, was apprenticing on half-day sport fishing boats at 10, and was a deckhand at 12. He continued to work on the boats on weekends and during his summer breaks until he moved to Humboldt for college.

Once in Northern California, Fukui discovered the joys of fishing rivers and said he “got addicted to steelhead fishing.”

The pursuit of trout interfered with his academic pursuits, and after three years at Humboldt State University, he dropped out and returned to Santa Barbara to fish full-time.

Fukui said the energy and excitement his professors had when he was a student at City College was “such a positive experience” on him that teaching became his dream.

His enthusiasm for teaching and fishing harmonize well, earning him admiration from students and faculty alike. “He’s a great fit for that particular course,” said Barry Tanowitz, biological sciences chair at City College.

“Out of all my classes, I enjoy coming to this one the most,” said Clint Padilla, a 20-year-old film studies major. “Sye’s a great teacher.”

Fukui strives to make his labs as fun as possible, playing music and having lots of hands-on work for the students.

When one of his students tackled her long-standing fear of sea creatures by handling a live octopus, Fukui said that her excitement was “like a kid at a tide pool.”

Little victories like that are what make teaching so rewarding, said Fukui. “I love students at this point in their academic career,” he said, explaining that even though many of his students are taking his class to fulfill requirements, he is in a position to potentially change their academic direction.

One of his unique methods of keeping students excited is to make fish tacos for the class. His “superb” tacos “are legend,” said Tanowitz.

Fukui said the tacos “will make you emotional,” but was hesitant to take much credit for their popularity.

The secret, he said, is exceedingly fresh fish. He uses rockfish that he catches locally, usually less than 24 hours before cooking, fresh cabbage and a bit of limejuice.

Even though he teaches lab twice a week, Fukui is still an active commercial fisherman, hauling in halibut that he sells to Korean fishmongers from Los Angeles.

He uses his connections in the fishing world and at UCSB’s diving program to keep his lab supplied with fresh, local marine animals for dissection and drawings. Fukui said that using fresh, rather than preserved, specimens allows his students to “see what they look like in all their color and beauty.”

Students appreciate that level of detail. “It’s cool seeing a lot of local stuff,” said Kegan Long, a 20-year-old engineering major in Fukui’s lab. “I didn’t realize the diversity.”

Fukui is glad for the opportunity to share his complimentary twin passions with his students. “I get to do what I love and I get paid for it.”