A Fond Farewell: Five Faculty Members Retire

Announcements10 MIN READ

Celebrating the distinguished careers of beloved faculty departing Mayflower Hill

(Photo by Ashley L. Conti)
By Laura Meader
July 9, 2024

Summer is the traditional time when Colby bids farewell to senior faculty retiring from classroom teaching. Five distinguished scholars leave Mayflower Hill having impacted the lives of thousands of students and making singular contributions to their respective fields.

Prolific scholars and transformative teachers, they have enriched Colby in numerous ways and fostered a more inclusive and stronger institution.

Effective August 30, professors retiring and receiving emeritus status include Cedric Bryant, the Lee Family Professor of English; Ben Mathes, professor of mathematics; Steve Saunders, the James M. Gillespie Professor of Music; and Judy Stone, the Oak Professor of Biological Sciences. George Welch, professor of mathematics, will also retire.

As they depart, they express gratitude for their time with students and colleagues alike.

“Colby is a remarkable institution,” reflected Saunders. “I’m enormously grateful for all the support I received over the course of a career, for the tremendous colleagues I got to collaborate with, and above all for my students, whose intellectual curiosity never failed to challenge and inspire me.”

For Bryant, shepherding students through personal and academic growth was the most fulfilling aspect of his time here. “I’ve begun almost every course I’ve taught with the heartfelt announcement that beyond the literary subject matter, my purpose is to recognize the next level of critical thinking and critical writing skills that each student has and help them get there. And beyond the exigent, Shakespearean, moral questions about what it means to be fully human and what it does not, the difficult journey to that next level is what animates and pedagogically engages me at every turn.”

Stone, too, commented how much she enjoyed mentoring and advising and “how much fun it was to get to know students as individuals and support them as they made their way forward.” She also savored working with her colleagues, “getting my own liberal arts education as I learned how faculty think across the curriculum.”

Cedric Bryant, the Lee Family Professor of English, possesses a deep and broad knowledge of 19th- and 20th-century American literature, particularly African-American and Southern literature. He started at Colby in 1988 and discovered his passion for teaching and his scholarship were inextricably linked. His work includes nearly 15 scholarly articles, published in the Mississippi Quarterly, The Southern Review, the Oxford Companion to African American Literature, and elsewhere. In 2006 Bryant received African American Review’s Joe Weixlmann Award for the Year’s Best Essay in 20th-Century African American Literature.

Bryant was well-known for his “author courses,” a semester-long focus on a single significant American author such as Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, Stephen King, and his last one, in spring 2024, on Colson Whitehead.

His author courses embodied his life “in the margins—pedagogically, culturally, racially, and interpersonally,” said Bryant. “They are the single, most satisfying ways I’ve found to coalesce all that I know about teaching with all that I’ve learned from the many hundreds, thousands actually, of students who found their way to my classes and [my office in] Miller Library 214.”

Portrait of a middle-aged black man wearing a suit and tie.
Lee Family Professor of English Cedric Bryant (Photo by Brian Fitzgerald)

Bryant earned his doctorate in English from the University of California, San Diego. At Colby, he served as the Department of English chair for two terms, the Division of Humanities chair for a six-year term, and the American Studies Program director for two years. He earned tenure in 1994 and the Lee Professorship in 1999.

He also engaged with the College on numerous academic and administrative committees, including race and diversity. He helped to establish the Pugh Center for Student Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. He also hosted dinners on issues around race, “the goal always being to get people to talk to one another—to be truthful but Zen, like he is. And so understanding and kind like he is,” said his colleague Adrian Blevins, professor of English and creative writing.

In 1994 Bryant received Colby’s Charles W. Bassett Teaching Award, and in 1996 the Carnegie Center for the Advancement of Teaching named him Professor of the Year for the state of Maine.“He really knows how to connect with students,” continued Blevins. “You can’t believe the number of letters I’ve seen students slide under his door to thank him for changing their lives. The poet David Roderick ’92 told me that Cedric taught him to write because he is such a benevolent, attentive, and exacting reader.”

Ben Mathes, professor of mathematics, has taught courses in calculus and analysis since he arrived at Colby in 1990. His legacy includes Colby’s Honors Calculus course that he initiated 30 years ago, which he taught many times during his tenure. The course is still a pillar of the mathematics program and has produced outstanding alumni over the years, said Leo Livshits, chair and professor of mathematics.

Mathes earned his doctorate in mathematics from the University of New Hampshire in 1988 and was a postdoctoral fellow at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S., for two years before his arrival on Mayflower Hill. He became a tenured faculty member in 1996 and a full professor in 2003. He is the author of 26 original research papers in mathematics, a number of which appeared in top-tier journals. He coauthored the last six papers with Colby students and even one high school student. His collaboration with students is “a continued testament to Ben’s singular ability of nurturing and magnifying the talents of Colby students in his care,” said Livshits. “Alumni who have gone on to do many things, not all connected to mathematics, single out Ben as a major influence.”

Older white man on a mountain top, sitting on a ledge with his golden retriever dog next to him.
Professor of Mathematics Ben Mathes

Steve Saunders, the James M. Gillespie Professor of Music, taught music history and theory for 34 years, starting in 1990. An expert on Baroque sacred music and the music and culture in 17th-century Vienna, he also studied Stephen Foster and 19th-century popular songs. He wrote two books on Foster, books on 17th-century music, and numerous professional articles and reviews.

Saunders earned his doctorate in musicology from the University of Pittsburgh, where he was awarded an A.W. Mellow Predoctoral Fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship. At Colby, he continued to earn grants and fellowships, including from the American Musicological Society, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Council of Learned Societies. He earned tenure in 1996, became a full professor in 2004, was named Charles A. Dana Professor in 2008, and earned the Gillespie Professorship in 2015.

His colleagues praise him for his insightful and trustworthy mentorship to junior colleagues and students, citing his clarity, patience, range of knowledge, and tireless devotion to Colby.

“Steve is both brilliant and generous, and his ego is never involved,” said Natasha Zelensky, co-chair and associate professor of music. “And he attends to things with a cheerful demeanor, enthusiastic smile, and nice sense of humor.”

White, middle-aged man with a moustache and wearing a black graduation robe,  smiles while standing at a podium.
James M. Gillespie Professor of Music Steve Saunders, who spoke at Colby’s 203rd Baccalaureate May 25, 2024. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

Saunders served on advisory and editorial boards for numerous professional music organizations and publications. He also lent time and expertise to Colby committees and initiatives and was instrumental in starting the Presidential Scholars Program. During 2014-15, he served as interim vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid, providing leadership during a period of transition. It is a year that Saunders recalls fondly, being particularly pleased about how much the admissions team came to enjoy what they were doing.

“There’s no doubt he was the ideal person for the task at hand given the circumstances surrounding his ascension to the role. Really just a master class in leadership,” said David Jones, director of data and technology in the Admissions Department. “Central to his success was understanding how to harness and channel the individual strengths and expertise in Admissions to achieve notably positive outcomes. I feel fortunate indeed to have worked with Steve that year.”

Said his colleague Yuri “Lily” Funahashi, “Steve has been an important figure in our department as our steady compass, always providing wise counsel to students and colleagues. He always encouraged the faculty to think about how to offer the best possible experience for the students. In his quiet way, it’s something he instilled in all of us,” said the department’s co-chair and associate professor of music. “We will miss Steve and his leadership, but I hope we can honor his legacy by making future department decisions with the same thoughtfulness that Steve tackled everything.” 

Judy Stone, Oak Professor of Biological Sciences, is an evolutionary geneticist who studies the causes and consequences of variation in plant populations. In a sign of how rapidly her field has changed, when she arrived at Colby 25 years ago, her senior colleagues supported her in bringing the first automated DNA sequencer to Colby. She combines genetic analysis with fieldwork, most notably in tropical forests, where she has been working for 40 years. As a passionate field biologist, Stone traveled with numerous students to sites in Maine and Costa Rica. In her teaching, she introduced more than 1,400 students to the elegance of population genetics and the beauty of plants in the world.

Stone earned her doctorate in ecology and evolution from SUNY at Stony Brook. She also has undergraduate and master’s degrees in forestry. She arrived at Colby in 1999 and was a Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Biology until she received tenure in 2006. She became a full professor in 2013 and from 2015 to 2018 served as the Dr. Charles C. and Pamela W. Leighton Research Fellow. Later, she served five years as co-chair and chair of the Biology Department.

MIddle-aged white woman in the woods with her arms around a large tree trunk.
Oak Professor of Biological Sciences Judy Stone

From 2021 to 2023, she served as a program officer in the Evolutionary Processes Cluster for the National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology. She was also a frequent panelist for the NSF’s Evolutionary Processes Program over a period of 20 years. Stone won grants from the National Science Foundation and the Maine Department of Conservation for her research, subsequently writing more than 20 professional articles.

“Judy has always been generous with her time, wisdom, and thoughtful feedback, whether leading a department meeting as chair or in a one-on-one meeting. Her good humor and kind-hearted nature make for delightful conversations,” said her colleague Cathy Bevier, Oak Professor of Biological Sciences. “Judy’s qualities as an educator and research mentor are exceptional, and she was dedicated to creating and maintaining a rewarding experience for staff, faculty, and students in biology as evident in the many curricular initiatives she guided.”

George Welch, associate professor of mathematics, began teaching at Colby in 1992 after earning his doctorate from Dartmouth College. He taught calculus and is remembered for his years of service to the Math Department as a calculus coordinator and the creator of Calculus After Hours (CAH), an evening program he ran for decades. CAH was a valuable resource that helped many students get a firmer grasp on the subject and provided a co-working space and a focal point for mathematical cooperation, said Leo Livshits, chair and professor of mathematics. Welch also provided invaluable service to the department and the College through his work on various committees and during his term as chair of the department.