More Than Mentors

More Than Mentors

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

By Gerry Boyle '78

Professors Maisel and Franko
Professors Sandy Maisel (government), left, and Patrice Franko (economics), right, talk with Gillian Morejon Gutierrez ’00 and her husband, Rob Gutierrez ’98, at the professors’ home.

From first-year classes to weddings to careers—faculty often are present at major events in a student’s life. Case in point: Brooke Frappier Jude ’00, who would be hard-pressed to find a time in her life when Professor of Biology Frank Fekete was not present, at least in spirit. Jude met Fekete soon after she landed at Colby with aspirations to become a medical doctor. After taking his introductory course in bacteriology, she signed up for a capstone honors course in microbiology her senior year. With Fekete’s encouragement, she and others solved a real-life problem of fish infections at a Maine hatchery (it was fungal), and Jude decided that research, not clinical medicine, was for her. “It was really rewarding,” she said. “It was Frank that allowed that.”

And it was Fekete who recommended her for a researcher position at Jackson Laboratories in Bar Harbor after graduation, she said. It was Fekete who conferred with her on her Jackson Lab research and helped her apply to graduate programs, including her eventual choice, Dartmouth Medical School, where she earned her Ph.D. It was Fekete who, after inviting Jude to give a talk at Colby, encouraged her to apply for a sabbatical replacement teaching position in the department where she had been a student. She did, and they became not only research collaborators but teaching colleagues.

“I had done very little teaching,” she said at Colby last summer. “So when I got here I had never run a class, I had never made a syllabus. I had never made an exam. I had never done any of that.”

“With Frank as a resource, I was able to show him exams, ask him for his opinion.”

Fekete shrugs off credit for Jude’s success in the classroom. (In August she left Colby for a coveted tenure-track teaching position at Bard College.) Instead he points to her important research (including an ongoing study of a previously unknown mechanism of the aquatic organism that causes cholera), her publications in prestigious science journals like Nature, her “intense curiosity.”

“One of the most important things we do here is training the next generation of scientists and educators,” Fekete said. “Brooke is the epitome of both.”

Jude says that at every important moment her mentor was present—including last year, when Jude and her husband, fellow Ph.D. biologist Craig Jude ’99, had their first child, Catherine. “Frank came to the hospital, one of those few people who came just hours after the baby was born,” she said.

Though not all mentor relationships are as direct and intertwined as Fekete and Jude’s, professors often take lasting pride in students’ accomplishments. Patrice Franko has taught at Colby since 1986, and since then she’s seen her researchers and honors students fan out across the world. Franko points to an NGO director in Africa and a key player at the Clinton Foundation, among others. “I get an incredible amount of personal satisfaction and happiness that comes from having these people in different places, doing good things,” Franko said. “In their journey, these extraordinary people come across my life and really enrich it.”

But relationships aren’t just built on accomplishments, she said. Franko also spoke of a former student and friend who lost her husband to cancer, and of another former student, the late Ben Ling ’98, who was a friend and a researcher for Franko’s husband, Professor Sandy Maisel. When Ling was terminally ill with cancer in 2001, Maisel and Franko flew to Oklahoma to see him and to say goodbye. Maisel eulogized Ling in an essay published in this magazine in the spring of 2001. “Those of us who knew Ben Ling will always consider our time with him one of Colby’s greatest gifts to us,” Maisel wrote. “Those who didn’t can learn as well from the terrible loss we feel by thinking of the friends they are meeting or have met on Mayflower Hill, by honoring those friendships and by building on them.”

“You see some of their sorrows as well as their joys,” Franko said. “There are some who have become like [our] children in some ways.”

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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.