Heart of RP: Don Chen – A Story of Dedication

The Outstanding Facilitation Award 2023 recipient, Mr Don Chen, preparing a chocolate sculpture for the Republic Polytechnic 2017 Open House. (Photo: RP Facebook)

From chef to mentor, Mr Don Chen reflects on his eight years in RP and receiving the Outstanding Facilitator Award.

The Outstanding Facilitation Award 2023 recipient, Mr Don Chen, preparing a chocolate sculpture for the Republic Polytechnic 2017 Open House. (Photo: RP Facebook)

Mr Don Chen, 40, a lecturer at the School of Hospitality (SOH), received the Outstanding Facilitator Award in 2023 for his dedication to facilitating, motivating and preparing students for the workforce.

The Outstanding Facilitator Award is presented annually to recognise and appreciate lecturers who have demonstrated exceptional facilitation processes and skills. This year’s other awardee is Mr Gan Eng Seng from the School of Applied Science (SAS).

These honoured educators consistently apply their expertise to enhance the educational experience for students, promoting a positive learning environment that aligns with RP’s commitment to effective facilitation.

Impacting lives

Mr Chen’s journey in the hospitality industry started 20 years ago, specialising in pastry and baking art. He graduated from a private school, Hillcity College in Ipoh, and came to Singapore in August 2003.

Through his vast experience in the industry, Mr Chen has gained various essential hospitality knowledge and skills such as food and beverage, customer service, hospitality, and events management. Driven by his passion for the craft, he gracefully transitioned to sharing his knowledge in the hospitality sector as the years added their touch, embracing a new chapter in his journey.

Currently, the 40-year-old teaches module H217 (Restaurant and Culinary Practicum II), imparting valuable knowledge to his students who will be the future of the hospitality industry.

Stepping into the classrooms of Sunrice (Global Chef Academy) in 2013, and later at RP in 2015, Mr Chen realised his motivation stemmed from being able to teach and build positive connections with students from the class. 

“I like sharing my knowledge and skills with students. It makes me feel rewarded to see students gain knowledge and skills. Teaching (also) forces me to learn more,” Mr Chen said, reflecting on his journey as an educator.

For him, the key to effective teaching methods is prioritising listening to his students before making judgments, as it serves as the initial step towards better understanding and connecting with them.

Unforgettable moments

His unforgettable memory in his RP journey was witnessing a timid, young student grow into a confident educator. 

“She was shy at first but gradually became more extroverted. Now she’s a teacher at a school,” Mr Chen shared. This deeply encouraged him to stay consistent in motivating and educating his students.

Tee Zhi Xuan, 20, from Hotel and Hospitality Management, is one of the many students who experienced Mr Chen’s positivity in teaching. 

She stated that he made sure all students gained deeper knowledge and better techniques of pastry making, through his dedication to his students and the hospitality industry.

Zhi Xuan enjoyed her H217 module, as she could apply the different cooking skills she had practised in a busy and realistic kitchen in a full-capacity restaurant.

She also had the opportunity to receive feedback from the customers whom she served, which she could use to improve on the different techniques and further deepen the knowledge she learned from the classroom.

“My memorable experience is Mr Chen teaching us the different types of stirring and slicing of ingredient techniques to make soup,” said Zhi Xuan, recalling her favourite lesson with Mr Chen in RP.

One memorable occasion for Mr Chen was the memories of planning and going for SOT with students. One such trip was when he went with the Class of 2023 for a 5-day visit to Bali in March this year. “It was (the course’s) first proper trip after COVID restrictions ended, so we had a blast enjoying Bali!”

Mr Don Chen (bottom right, with a blue collar) leading a group of students on Student Overseas Trip (SOT) to Bali in March 2023. (Photo: Don Chen)

Source of inspiration and motivation

As a student or a facilitator, it is common to feel burnt out from time to time due to daily assignments, work or other commitments. 

However, with Mr Chen’s encouragement and passion for his students and the hospitality industry, Zhi Xuan felt inspired and motivated to persevere through the hard times. His positive teachings helped Zhi Xuan to overcome the mistakes and challenges she faced each day.

Similarly, Mr Chen experienced setbacks like any facilitator in his daily work, such as learning to encourage students and finding ways to make class an interesting place for students to feel excited and comfortable to participate.

When facilitating during the pandemic, Mr Chen shared about the struggles that both students and teachers had.  It was the first time many educators in Singapore had to learn how to conduct lessons online, and RP’s facilitators were no different.

“In the present day, every facilitator is required to wear different hats to help ensure that all students have a fun, comfortable and in-depth learning experience.” 

Not only did Mr Chen have to be a teacher, he also had to take on the extra responsibility of convincing students that studying amid a pandemic was worthwhile.

The first seven lessons had to be done virtually. Although it would be “no different than learning how to cook from YouTube,” teachers were unable to correct students’ mistakes directly. Some students managed to learn the techniques taught virtually, while others fell through the cracks and felt frustrated.

“We struggled to communicate and pass on messages to our students, unable to have them effectively grasp and learn the content. It would be like if I learnt how to drive purely via video. Would you dare trust me enough and get on for me to drive you from Point A to B?”

In the end, after talks with the top management, the practical lessons were allowed to resume physically, with all the safe-distancing protocols in place.

“The students then really appreciated the fact that lessons could be carried out physically again.” Mr Chen said, smiling.

Class photo of Mr Don Chen and his students from H217 – Restaurant and Culinary Practicum II at Waters Edge Training Restaurant. (Photo: Don Chen)

He explained, “The students have taught me how to be a better listener. They will remind me that I need to slow down a little bit, and be more patient because they are students. This process of continuous learning is crucial; otherwise, we would already be professionals in the industry.”

Surprisingly, he expressed that he was not originally a patient person.

“When I wanted something to be done, I wanted it to be done quickly.” 

From his students, he learnt not to judge people too soon, and give students space to learn and finish at their own pace before he steps in.

Believing in the slogan “Do it one day at a time,” helps to encourage and motivate him each day and allows him to spread his dedication and excitement about the hospitality industry to his students.

Mr Chen is excited for the students under his wing to graduate and take flight to the different doors of opportunity the hospitality industry has to offer. 

If you want to see the world, you should first join the hospitality industry, as it is the best place to start. Hospitality is the key to opening up a world of opportunities.

Mr Don Chen