More Than Mentors

More Than Mentors

Begun in the classroom, relationships between professors and students thrive beyond Mayflower Hill.

By Gerry Boyle '78


While few Colby professors transport dollhouses between continents, many do forge friendships with students—bonds that last years and decades.

Ryan Wepler '02, left, and Vicki Hayes '04 had Professor Steven Nuss (music), a notary public,  perform their wedding ceremony this summer.

“I don’t even think of them as students,” said Ira Sadoff, Roberts Professor of Literature, reeling off a list of alumni with whom he still corresponds and visits. “I think of them as friends.”

Sadoff and others say this is a hallmark of Colby, where personal teaching is emphasized and encouraged. The evidence of that is purely anecdotal, but the anecdotes are plentiful.

A query of a mere dozen faculty members elicited enough stories to fill this entire magazine, and then some. Professors from chemistry to creative writing readily listed former students and their accomplishments. Former mentors and students have become collaborators and colleagues. One-time research assistants are confidants. Professors who offered counsel to shy first-years do the same years later—to alumni who are 30-somethings. Faculty members buy wedding and baby gifts for former students. Years later some see former students who bring their teenage children to tour the campus or to enroll as freshmen.

“This is one of the rewards” of teaching, said Steven Nuss, associate professor of music.

Nuss, who has taught at Colby since 1996 and spends summers in New York City, sees a steady procession of students and former students who visit when they’re in Manhattan. In one week last summer three former students popped in on him. “The faucet has been turned on,” he reported in an e-mail.

But Nuss wasn’t prepared for a call earlier this year from Vicki Hayes ’04 and Ryan Wepler ’02. Hayes and Wepler had been dating since Hayes was a sophomore music major and sat with Wepler in a Nuss music theory class. They learned then that Nuss was a notary public and had performed weddings for colleagues. “Ever since then we had thought seriously about having him do it,” Wepler said.

Eight years later, on July 11, Nuss married the couple in Lorimer Chapel. He drove to Colby from New York to perform the ceremony, which included his own remarks, in front of an assembly of family and friends. “It was wonderful,” said Wepler, who is finishing his Ph.D. in English at Brandeis. “He’s so well-spoken and such an affable guy. Everyone thought he was great.”

Said Hayes, who teaches music at a charter school, “It was beyond what we ever envisioned.”
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  • On November 3, 2009, john c. edes wrote:
    no professor was appreciated anymore than jim gillespie (psychology) as he mentored so many Colby athletes. Those of us who played at Colby in the fifties and sixties will ever forget him.