The Pandemic: A Time to Push Forward

By Gerry Boyle ’78
Photography by Gregory Rec and Gabe Souza

Hannah Wolfe, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, works with student Rayna Hate in modeling Wolfe’s new AI lab

Assistant Professor of Computer Science Hannen (Hannah) Wolfe, left, and Rayna Hata ’23 wear active 3D glasses while exploring a virtual sound installation in Wolfe’s AI lab on Colby's campus.

Successfully navigating a pandemic was only part of the job. 

President David A. Greene points to the ongoing crisis in higher education, with a shrinking pool of students putting the squeeze on colleges and universities. When the pandemic ends, those challenges will remain.

“We have to do more than simply be great at Covid,” he said in the spring of 2020. “We need to use this year to really be able to push ahead major initiatives, to be thinking about our future, and to have our head up all the time.”

Artist performance

The arts are a central component of the student experience and are making Waterville an arts destination.

Almost a year later, it’s clear that Colby did keep its head up, and the major initiatives kept moving forward. And then some. 

In addition to coping with Covid-19, the College stuck to the plan: continue to move on initiatives that ensure Colby is widely recognized as a prestigious liberal arts college with the innovation and reach of a major research university, and that the student experience is integrated and opportunity-rich.

The Lockwood Hotel as seen from Main Street

The four-story, 48,000-square-foot, 53-room Lockwood Hotel as seen from Main Street. The hotel's name draws on Waterville’s rich history of industry and innovation and signals the strength of the city’s future.

In August the Colby-owned Lockwood Hotel opened on Main Street for the arrival of students, its role shifting temporarily to meet the need for housing during the pandemic year. Seven months later, the hotel’s flagship restaurant, Front & Main, opened to the public.

Interior rendering of the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts.

The Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts, its interior seen in this rendering, will foster creativity and collaboration among students and faculty across the disciplines, contributing to a growing robust arts ecosystem in central Maine.

Artist performance
Artist performance

Last fall, after the College worked intensively to prepare for students’ arrival, work began to prepare the site for the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts, a key venue in Colby’s broad plan to create an “arts ecosystem” with the Colby College Museum of Art, and, on Main Street downtown, the Paul J. Schupf Art Center (construction began in April) and the arts collaborative (opened in April). It’s all part of a multipronged effort to make the arts a more central component of the student experience and to make Waterville an arts destination.

The Paul J. Schupf Art Center

The Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville, seen in this rendering, will be a distinctive hub for visual arts, performing arts, arts education, and film for children and adults.

In October the 350,000-square-foot Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center opened on time, reaffirming Colby’s commitment to excellence in athletics and to the health and well-being of the entire community. Students, faculty, and staff—wearing face coverings where appropriate and physically distanced—immediately began using the center.

The Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center

The Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center, opened in fall 2021, is the most advanced and comprehensive D-III facility in the country.

Swimmer diving into a pool

Colby is home to the only Olympic-sized Myrtha pool in Maine.

The Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center team weight room

The three-level Boulos Family Fitness Center includes a mix of free weights, cables, and cardio equipment, open areas for stretching and training, as well as dedicated fitness studios and a mindfulness and meditation room.

In January Colby announced the Davis Institute for Artificial Intelligence, the first such undertaking of its kind at a liberal arts college. The institute will provide new pathways for talented students and faculty to research, create, and apply AI and machine learning across disciplines, all part of the ongoing strengthening of the academic program to address the world’s challenges. 

In addition, in May 2020, the College launched an “Inequality Lab” to provide a multi-disciplinary approach to scholarship, teaching, learning, and community engagement, a move that will ultimately create many courses on inequality and research that will illuminate causes and solutions around this societal challenge. In March of this year, a new concentration was added in literature and environment to the English major to focus on the intersection of social justice and environmental change.

In spite of the pandemic, which had some colleges and universities straining to fill their ranks, applications for the Class of 2025 totaled nearly 16,000, a 13-percent increase from last year’s record.

NASA’s revolutionary James Webb Space Telescope

Colby students and faculty, led by Associate Professors of Physics and Astronomy Dale Kocevski and Elizabeth McGrath, will deploy AI on data from NASA’s revolutionary James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in November.

The enrolling class, finalized in April, is the strongest ever in terms of academic qualifications and diversity, driven by programs like the Colby Commitment, the Fair Shot Fund, and the Pulver Science Scholars Program.

In a year when the College rallied to give students in-person learning and experiences, Colby’s financial supporters also answered the call.  

Over the first year of the pandemic from March 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, more than 9,000 donors made gifts to the College totaling $86 million—including over 8,700 donors to the Colby Fund. Despite the complex challenges presented at the time, momentum driven by the collective Colby community continued across all areas, from the arts to the sciences to humanistic inquiry.

Donors propelled forward Dare Northward campaign initiatives, including endowments ranging from financial aid to public policy, the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts, the Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center, the Davis Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and much more.

In 2020-21, the Dare Northward campaign surpassed $625 million, with 24,000 donors, positioning Colby within reach of its $750-million goal and ever closer to securing Colby’s unique place among top liberal arts colleges in the nation.

Athlete running on the field house track in the Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center

Colby's new indoor competition center (track/field house) has a six-lane track, regulation tennis courts, and field-event accommodations for pole vault, high jump, long/triple jump, and shot put. Photo by Gregory Rec.

“This was not a moment to pause and sit back,” Greene said. “This was a moment to really see the landscape in front of us and make the most of it. And that’s when we’re at our best. That is what we do.”