Colby Magazine - Winter 1998 Resident Experts
Michael Donihue, Susan Mackenzie, and students Here's one reason Michael Donihue '79 and Susan MacKenzie '80 say they love living in a residence hall: when their young son, Ross, 8, walks over to Dana Dining Hall for breakfast the chef knows what he will want. "Scrambled eggs. Dry," said MacKenzie. And when Ross walks by himself on campus there usually is a student from Taylor, where Donihue and MacKenzie serve as faculty residents, who will escort him. "The students like playing the part of big brother or big sister," said Donihue.
    It may not have a picket fence and a two-car garage, but a faculty residence has its own charms, say the couple, who moved into Taylor this year after several years of home ownership. Their ground-floor apartment in Taylor is quiet, comfortable, convenient and economical. And there are plenty of kids in the neighborhood.
    Donihue, associate professor of economics, and MacKenzie, a Ph.D. in natural resource policy and administration, find the easy access to library resources, lectures and the intellectual life of the campus invigorating. As parents, they enjoy exposing their children, Ross and Colin, to the diversity and learning environment of the College. In general, their living arrangement makes them feel closer to the place that has been part of their lives since they started dating while in Jon Weiss's literature class 20 years ago, they say. They especially like the contact with students.
     "I have been impressed with the students," Donihue said. "I had some concern that I wouldn't be able to get away and have my own space, to separate my faculty life from my family life. So far it hasn't been a problem because the students have been respectful of our privacy."
    Associate Dean of Students Ron Hammond says the presence of a family in the residence hall is valuable to students in several ways. Donihue and MacKenzie are mentors, counselors and models, he says. "Students see them as intellectually curious people who also are raising a family," Hammond said. "And they are risk-free companions without the constraints of parents. A lot of the interaction they have with students would fall into the sage/adviser category."
    Hammond emphasizes that Donihue and MacKenzie are not surrogate parents. "But when students are far away from their nuclear families, the presence of a faculty family can be a source of comfort when things aren't going well," he said.
    Jessica Hereford '01 says the faculty couple have eased her transition to college. "They are so incredibly supportive and they're genuine-ly interested in what you're doing," she said.
    She also enjoys her interaction with Ross and Colin, who is 12. "The boys are so much fun, I love having them around," she said. "Their presence solidifies the feeling of family in the residence hall."
    Ross and Colin have been adopted by the students in Taylor, who build snow forts, play games and occasionally include the boys in hall activities. The boys judged Taylor's Halloween door decoration contest last fall. "Lots of candy," Colin said when asked whether there were attempts to sway the judges' opinions.
    Colin says living on campus "is a huge learning opportunity. I get to meet people from many different backgrounds and places. And I have an art museum practically in my backyard."
    Being available to offer counsel and support is part of the job of a faculty resident, and both Donihue and MacKenzie say they enjoy it. Such interaction usually happens spontaneously although they are conscious of opportunities to help. "Because we attended Colby ourselves, we can talk about what our experience was like and maybe help put problems in perspective," MacKenzie said.
     When the couple planned a game night last fall, they invited students to submit votes for their favorite pie. When students showed up for the event, MacKenzie had several fresh pies waiting. The couple also offers remedies for anxiety at exam time, serving "tension tamer tea" during study breaks in their apartment. Donihue says students need these occasional comforts, physical and psychological, that they miss from their own homes. "We have two kids and two cats," he said. "We might supply students with a reminder of what is familiar to them."
Faculty File