| by Laura Meader

The global pandemic has claimed one of Colby’s former professors. Nicholas Rohrman, an experimental psychologist who reimagined and strengthened Colby’s Psychology Department, passed away Dec. 26, 2020, from COVID-19 at his home in Saco, Maine. He was 83.

Rohrman came to Colby in 1977 from Florida State University “at a time when the department needed the wisdom, experience, and fresh perspective of a new leader,” said Diane (Skowbo) Winn, professor of psychology, emerita. Along with his strong scholarship record, Rohrman brought the right brand of leadership to Colby. As chair, he improved the department’s curriculum, facilities, and programs while providing unwavering support for his colleagues, Winn said.

Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, Nick Rohrman with his daughter Melinda Rohrman Burgess ’91 at her Colby graduation.

His efforts produced quick and noticeable results. By the mid-1980s, the department had moved to a new space in the Roberts Building for offices and human research and to the Arey Life Sciences Building for animal research. At the same time, Rohrman revamped and solidified the psychology curriculum, providing the vision for the team-taught introductory and the two-semester research methods and statistics courses, both of which are mainstays of the current curriculum.

“He encouraged us to hold our students to high standards,” said Ed Yeterian, professor of psychology, emeritus. “Nick was candid, focused, and determined about improving psychology courses and facilities while ensuring we did this as a team.”

Under his leadership, the number of majors and the rigor of the curriculum grew rapidly. “And to help insure that our best students were recognized for their efforts,” Yeterian said, “Nick established the honors program in the major, along with the Colby Chapter of Psi Chi, the International Psychology Honor Society.”

Born and raised in Indianapolis, Rohrman earned a bachelor’s from Butler University. He then joined the U.S. Air Force and served as a squadron operations officer for four years. Returning to academia, he earned a master’s in clinical psychology from Miami University, Ohio, in 1964, and completed doctoral work in experimental psychology at Indiana University in 1967. He taught at Bucknell University before teaching at Florida State for eight years.

Rohrman had diverse psychological interests that included the history of psychology, psycholinguistics, and cognition and memory. During his career, he received two grants from the National Science Foundation, wrote or cowrote three textbooks and dozens of papers, and served as an editorial consultant to numerous journals and publishers.

Winn described Rohrman as a “Renaissance man” with interests in and knowledge about many things beyond psychology. “He also had a terrific sense of humor,” she said. “He would sometimes compose (and sing!) clever little songs to parody a current event.” His love of music included bagpiping, which he taught himself in the early-’80s. Alumni may recall him piping by the shores of Johnson Pond or at their first-year convocation or baccalaureate. He eventually became proficient enough to join the Kora Shrine Highlanders Pipe Band and the Casco Bay Pipe Band. 

After a decade as department chair, Rohrman stepped down but continued teaching until he retired in 2005. At his urging, Yeterian assumed the role of chair with Rohrman’s full support. “He provided detailed guidance on budgets, staffing, courses, and the myriad other details chairs deal with,” Yeterian said.

“Through it all Nick could not have been more supportive. His ability to see issues clearly, his sense of humor, and his devotion to departmental colleagues were invaluable.” 

Nick Rohrman leaves his daughters, Lisa Rohrman Bearce ’82 and Melinda Rohrman Burgess ’91, three grandchildren, and a sister.