| by Laura Meader

Colby remembers the life of Marilyn “Lyn” Sweeney Mavrinac, associate professor of education and history, emerita, who died Nov. 29, 2020, in Milwaukee, Wis. A dedicated teacher, scholar, and activist, Mavrinac provided the vision and leadership that broadened Colby’s Education Program into its current liberal arts-based exploration of education and its role in society.

“Lyn was instrumental in developing the first minor in education in the early ’90s,” said Professor of Education Mark Tappan. Over the last 30 years, the education minor has been very popular, he said, and led ultimately to the program’s major in educational studies. “The legacy of Lyn’s vision for the education minor is really the structure of our current program.”

Mavrinac’s other legacy is the establishment of the practicum in education that has allowed hundreds of Colby students to spend Jan Plan exploring education as a profession by working with a teacher in an area classroom. The practicum has inspired many students to pursue a career in education.

The practicum created by Mavrinac also represents one of the earliest examples of what has come to be called civic engagement, Tappan said, “by providing students, in the context of an academic course, the opportunity to engage in real-world work that not only meets community needs but also helps students develop their own knowledge, skills, and dispositions.”

Mavrinac earned a bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College and a master’s from Columbia University. Her doctoral studies began at Harvard in 1953 but were tabled in 1957 when she started a family. She returned to her research—much of it undertaken in France—in her mid-60s and earned a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1991.

Her research and writing focused on the educational experiences of French women, especially those in secondary schools from 1910 to 1940. She also studied gender roles, co-education, and the experiences of Franco-American women, including those in Waterville and Biddeford, Maine. Three prestigious summer fellowships supported her research: two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and one from Chicago’s Newberry Library.

Mavrinac started at Colby in 1963 as an instructor, became an assistant professor in 1976, and retired as an associate professor in 1995. She twice served as acting chair of Colby’s Education Program, providing what Tappan called continuity in leadership at key times in the department, especially in 1990-91 following the death of the program’s longtime chair. 

“She guided us with wisdom, support, and insight,” said Professor of Education Lyn Mikel Brown. “She encouraged us to place our decisions and actions in a wider institutional context.” But her first priority was the welfare and well-being of her students. “Her unwavering commitment to them is her legacy,” Brown said. “It’s something we will never forget about her.”

In addition to being a Harvard teaching fellow, Mavrinac taught at the American University of Cairo, the University of Maine Augusta, and the International School of Kuala Lumpur. Together with her husband, Albert Mavrinac, Colby’s Dana Professor of Government, Emeritus, she traveled and studied in Asia, Africa, and Europe with their children, returning frequently to their home base in Maine. In 2004 the Mavrinac family endowed the Mavrinac Prize, given annually by Colby’s Government Department for the best original research project submitted by a student.

Lyn Mavrinac, far right, with a group of students on a COOT trip at the Hume Center in 1992.

Outside the classroom, Mavrinac was a COOT chaperone, a faculty affiliate in residential halls, and a role model for young women. She brought her activism to the communities in which she lived, especially to Waterville. One of the original organizers of the city’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Observance, she also volunteered with multiple organizations, including the American Association for University Women, the Maine Civil Liberties Union, and the Democratic Party. 

“We learned important lessons from Lyn,” Brown said. “Her sense of humor, her quiet and unassuming strength, and, perhaps most of all, her bold activist spirit showed us her genuine commitment to making the world a better, more just, and compassionate place.”