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15 Minutes: Votes add up for LTCC math teacher

Amanda Fehd
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Bic Ha Olson, a mathematics instructor at Lake Tahoe Community College, was named best instructor in the Tahoe Daily Tribune's Best of Tahoe contest.
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Bic Ha Olson was chosen as best instructor in the Tahoe Daily Tribune’s Best of Tahoe Awards this year. She teaches mathematics and statistics at Lake Tahoe Community College. A teacher since 1996, she says people use skills they learned in math class every day without knowing it.

Q: What do you enjoy about teaching junior college?

A: I love the fact that the students are here because they want to learn, not because they have to. The college is really small so we have a close rapport and relationship with the students.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to teach?

A: College algebra and mathematics for liberal arts majors, which they call “math for poets.”

Q: What was your reaction when you heard you were chosen as a Best of Tahoe instructor?

A: I was very surprised – I didn’t know they had this category and I was very surprised I had won.

I have to share this honor with the rest of my department. Math is a subject where people don’t take it just for fun. It’s usually a requirement so I feel special to have been picked, but I learn a lot from my colleagues: Jane Ellis, Larry Green and Bruce Armbrust.

I think there are a lot of good teachers here who are dedicated.

Q: Do people really use math after they leave school?

A: I get that question a lot and they don’t realize that what they learned is not the equations and the variables, it’s the critical thinking and deductive reasoning. It’s a whole thought process.

They use this thought process in problem solving in everyday life. There’s always a method: a beginning, middle and end. In other words, get the facts and then decide, be informed.

People unconsciously do it and they don’t realize they are using reasoning all the time. You need to build that up to be well balanced

Q: You said you weren’t born here?

A: No, I was born in Vietnam, actually in Saigon, which is no longer called Saigon, it’s called Ho Chi Minh City.

Q: How old were you when you arrived?

A: I was 5.

Q: Any memories of the journey?

A: It was very scary, everything we had was in our suitcases and that was it. That was before the war, we were just immigrants. We came in 1961 and the war started in 1965.

Q: Do you feel we have diversity here in South Lake Tahoe?

A: Not really.

I just came back from a conference on race and ethnicity in New York City. I went with three other colleagues, Nancy Barklay, Jan Koenen, and Raine Mershon.

We experienced so much diversity and we learned so much to bring back to Tahoe and share. We’ve started brainstorming ideas to promote diversity.

We have started a few things, an ESL scholarship that’s new. We’re trying to get brownbag discussions going. We are meeting with a book club that teaches diversity in the classrooms. We always have the multicultural week and we are trying to get more speakers and films.

Sal Lopez is one of our ESL instructors and he is starting three new ethnic studies classes in the fall.

It’s one of my passions. When you have diversity, you just have so much more as a community.

Not just diversity in ethnicity and culture, but also class, religion, gender, age, disabilities and sexual orientation.

Q: What motivates you to be a teacher?

A: The word is serendipity. I fell into it by accident. And I realized I love teaching.

Q: Why?

A: I have this need to share information and teaching is one of those methods. I just feel like I can communicate math to students and I feel it’s something I was meant to do.

“To teach is to learn twice.” I love that saying.

Q: Why do you think the students voted for you?

A: Most of the time, they tell me that math has always been difficult for them and then after my class, they say they not only understand it, but they like it when they used to hate it.

Q: Do you have a philosophy in life?

A: Be honest. I really feel that if everyone was honest, this world would be such a better place.

Q: You can’t lie with math.

A: There you go, although they tried with statistics.

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– To suggest someone for a “15 Minutes” column, contact Amanda Fehd at afehd@tahoedailytribune.com.


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