STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 08/21/2007

FEATURE | The Early Years: Pioneers In The Sciences at Gordon

David Smith '79 was instrumental in collecting fellow-alums' tributes to their favorite science professors from the early years of the sciences at Gordon (see gallery immediately below). His story, "A Bonding Experience," of being a pre-med biology major, appears below. See Honor a Science Faculty Member and add your own word of praise for our outstanding science faculty.

H. OMAR OLNEY, PH.D., BIOLOGY, 1960-1968
"In 1966 we science majors decided it was about time the Science Department received the Senior
Class Gift. We decided to purchase a decent water still. When it came time for the presentation in the chapel, Dr. Olney (then head of the Biology Department) appeared dressed in overalls, flannel shirt and straw hat, looking like he came out of Pike County, Kentucky. He carried the still up onto the platform. It had already been in use and leaked as he took it up. 'The dang thing ain't housebroke yet!' he said, and the whole place broke out in laughter."

Robert Crippen '66, Retired Senior Analytical Chemist

"The month I graduated from Gordon, I decided I wanted to be a writer instead of going to medical school. I arrived in a heap in Dr. Wright's office, full of sorrow about what not going would mean to so many people who had helped me along the way--including him. I was also a little afraid of the changes this new idea would mean for me. Dr. Wright, who had been my science advisor for years and had spent his own life in science, seemed not to think the decision itself was so critical. It was good to work hard in science; it was also good to write well. It was just good to work hard. And then--I'll never forget this--he lifted his (his!) Remington typewriter right off his desk and handed it to me. That rugged tank of a manual, which is here by my side now, took me through graduate school and well into my writing life. If I could rig it up with email, I'd be writing on it now."

Lynne Bertrand '85, Writer

"Dr. Brandt was being challenged regarding the idea that the study of the humanities was superior to the study of science. He replied, 'When you know as much about Newton as I know about Shakespeare, come back and talk to me.'"

Beverly (Mann) Hall '71, College Math Adjunct Professor

"Dr. Haugh mentored upperclassmen by having them monitor our freshman chemistry labs. Nevertheless, he was usually strolling through the lab drinking coffee from a beaker. I always had the sense he loved chemistry, but even more that he loved his students. Having him at your lab bench felt more like a friend watching, ready to ask you 'the' question that would allow you to overcome the obstacle or allow you to find the answer. Having worked on a secular campus for more than 30 years, it is even more apparent now that the man behind the coffee beaker was walking with God."

Donna (Andrews) Cullen '71, Computer Policy Analyst

"Dr. Dent always made us smile. Around the time he was retiring, a group of students went for a walk through the woods behind campus. At one point Dr. Dent dropped to his chest on the ground, marveling at some plant that he saw. This enthusiasm for botany--and creation in general--is one of the reasons the Biology Club planted the sugar maple tree in front of Emery Hall in his honor."

Chad Hutcheson '93, Section Head, Analytical Services

"One day another student and I were working on a lab. Things were not looking very good when all of a sudden Dr. Camp entered, took one look at us and said, 'You guys look like you need a song!' He disappeared, then returned with a guitar. He sat on the stairs and belted out an old James Taylor number. He sang a few more songs, then disappeared again, leaving us to continue with our lab work--only by then we were smiling."

Lisa Sargent Satterwhite '88, Science Teacher

"I was struggling with Calc 1. I remember sitting in class, feverishly copying everything the professor was writing on the board, hoping I'd be able to sit down after class and decode it all. I even copied stray chalk marks just to be certain I got everything that was important. Then I had a flash: 'I'll take these hieroglyphs to Dr. McNatt. He'll help me sort it all out!' I knocked on his office door unannounced, and he was more excited to help me than a dog with a fresh bone! We sat in the lab (the dungeon in Frost Hall) and Dr. McNatt opened my notebook. In less than a heartbeat he knew exactly what we had been doing in class: 'Oh yes, well, this is easy.' And he proceeded to make notes in the margin of my notes as he explained the process. It was like asking Julia Child how to boil an egg. I instantly think of Dr. McNatt when a student asks me for help."

Roger Shelton '77, Science Teacher

"Happy Jack! I still don't understand how one can have so much fun, and so consistently, in a chemistry lab. It must be the great sense of humor and the kind, loving heart. I'll take more of that any day."

David Hall '77, M.D.

Photos  Photos of science faculty are from issues of Hypernikon, the Gordon College yearbook, spanning the years 1961-76.

A Bonding Experience by David Smith '79

Freshman biology majors were akin to a sports team, spending much time together inside and outside the classroom. Early on we were introduced to the joys of labs and field trips with Dr. Dent. I think he represented everybody's favorite uncle--warm and caring, passionate about his pursuits, with a delightful, self-deprecating sense of humor.

For our first two years we all had the same 8 a.m. chemistry class with Dr. Jack Haas, who never explained why his lab coat was embroidered "The Jack of Lights." Dr. Haas resided on the near side of the lunatic fringe, infusing joy and zaniness into our lives, manifesting a love for his subject and for life and his Lord.

Fruit flies were a major bonding experience. Yes, I know that sounds like I inhaled too many fumes in the chem lab! For our genetics labs we cross-bred fruit flies with various physical characteristics, such as straight- versus curly-winged, different eye colors and so on. When they were hatching, we had to make a count every 12 hours, coordinating with our lab partner the morning and evening counts--and pestering dear Dr. Dent constantly; only a bookshelf separated his office from the lab space we used. I suspect more than a few of the innumerable escapees (flies, that is) roaming Emery Science Building were intentionally released--little loving reminders to Dr. Dent and everyone else in the building that we were enjoying our studies.

There must have been many times our profs looked the other way. Several of us regularly used the constant temperature baths in the lab to make yogurt; our methodology was foolproof with that kind of temperature control. There were times when the profs wished they could look away. When we dissected dogfish sharks, my shark's tail made its last trip in a unique fashion: through the dirty dish conveyer in Lane. I did the same with a "pithed" frog--splayed him out nicely on a clean plate, on a tray set with clean silver and a nice glass of water. Very satisfactory shrieks emerged from the back of the kitchen.

Medical school admission was highly competitive in the late '70s. I'd heard stories of sabotaged lab projects, of needing
to physically guard one's notes and lab reports, or of professors who were coldly uncaring and unhelpful. The beauty of Gordon was not merely the absence of all those negatives, but the presence of positives. My lab partners were companions. My professors were role models and friends; I visited their homes, even knew some of their kids.

Three of us went to med school in 1979 out of a class of eight biology majors that year. Many thanks to all of our professors, and special kudos to Dr. Richard "Dick" Wright, our premed advisor. He let us know in no uncertain terms that if we weren't up to his high standards there would be no letter of reference forthcoming. He would not put his name and the school's reputation on the line except to back a truly excellent student.

After graduating from Tufts University School of Medicine in 1983, my first practice setting was in West Virginia, in a one-man office located up a twisting mountain road, 11 miles from a 28-bed hospital. For three years I had a solo practice in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Next I taught in two family-medicine residency programs, first with the West Jersey Health System and then with the Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Maine.

I retired two years ago on full disability due to fascioscapulohumeral (FSH) muscular dystrophy. In his infinite and inscrutable wisdom, the Lord saw fit to have me work only 19 years in my profession. This is one of God's mysteries--alas, we don't see things through the divine perspective. But my task is straightforward: to trust Him and to obey Him.

One way I have of using my time to His glory is to help coordinate the science-faculty tribute project. It came about as Bob Grinnell and I were talking about ways to make the Heart of Discovery campaign more relevant to alumni, and how to honor our many science profs who will be remembered on plaques and in the museum in the new science building. The idea of collecting tributes on the website came up--and the response so far has been gratifying with tributes from alumni from the 1960s through the 2004 graduating class--over 40 years of scientific excellence being praised. We look forward to posting these on the website and ultimately to presenting them to the professors and their families at the dedication of the Kenneth Olsen Science Center. The professors mentioned in this article all began teaching at Gordon before 1973, but there are many more. So please take the time to visit and add your own word of praise for our outstanding science faculty.

David Smith and his wife, Elizabeth, come back to Gordon frequently and are contributors to The Partners Program. Their oldest child, Daniel '02, was an A. J. Gordon Scholar and a participant in the Gordon in Oxford program. David has spoken to Gordon students about the practice of medicine and the life of the healthcare worker, and more recently to Phi Alpha Chi candidates about writing. He has written several scientific articles as well as a devotional companion to the New Testament, Journey to the Heart of God, Vineyard International Publishing, 2005.


Dr Brandt
Dr Haugh
Dr Olney
Dr Camp