The Colgate Scene
May 2000
Table of contents
A special class of 2000
Among the retirees this spring are four distinguished scholars -- teachers who have captivated classes, befriended students and contributed mightily to the reputation of Colgate's excellent faculty.

Jim McLelland became a legend in the Adirondacks and among geology concentrators.
The Chief is retiring

by Bruce Selleck '71

Four of us, all freshmen in the class of 1971, had gathered in the front of the room to ask the professor questions following a lecture on meteorites in a Jan Plan course, winter, 1968. I think it was Paul Chan who said, `So, Professor McLelland, can you show us one of those meteors?" The professor shielded his face in a feigned fright -- "Meteors -- yikes -- you mean we're under attack?!" He then went on to explain to Paul that the proper term for a piece of the solar system that had landed on earth was meteorite, whereas a meteor was in the process of landing, and so worthy of terror. Generations of Colgate students were treated to Jim's set of anecdotes about meteorite impacts -- from the lady in Alabama to the Egyptian barkless dog to the profound extinction-causing event at the end of the Cretaceous -- and learned that these pieces of celestial flotsam and jetsam were evidence of the link between the earth and the rest of the solar system.

     Everyday stories that connect the small and seemingly insignificant with the large and intellectually profound are recurrent in Jim's teaching, and his own thinking. A central theme in Jim's scholarly life has been the understanding of the earth as a planet, and that geologists study not just rocks and fossils, but how the whole planet works.

     Jim McLelland came to Colgate in 1963, having just completed a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. Bob Linsley, then the young department chair of geology, saw in Jim a geologist of considerable potential whose breadth of training in the sciences would allow him to contribute to the hefty teaching expectations in the Core 10 and Core 11 programs of that era.

     Together, Jim and Bob built a world-class department by teaching excellent courses themselves, attracting and retaining good faculty, raising the expectations of the department in both teaching and research and overseeing the renovation of Lathrop Hall in the early 1970s. Colgate's geology department ranks consistently among the top undergraduate programs in the country in terms of students pursuing graduate work.

     Jim and Bob worked hard to bring students and professors in closer contact through field trips and social events, at a time most faculty members were convinced that a "distance" should be kept. Jim was an early advocate of involving undergraduate students in real research, and the names of a few of the undergraduate field mappers in the Adirondacks who worked with him -- Dave Howell '66 (USGS), Barry Doolan '66 (University of Vermont), Karen Kleinspehn '76 (University of Minnesota), Tim Lowenstein '78 (SUNY Binghamton), Jean Morrison '80 (USC) -- have gone on to superb professional careers in geology and remind us of the impact of that opportunity on student learning.

     Jim's petrology course, which I faced in my own undergraduate career, forced students to confront the complexity of igneous and metamorphic processes, but to the "opportunistic" (the major paper for the course was assigned by Jim as an "opportunity") student, the connection between the microscopic thin-section scale view, and the whole-earth, plate tectonic scale view was made in a profound way.

     The undergraduate students who worked with him in the Adirondacks were part of a 35-year effort that established Jim as a consummate `hard-rock' geologist in the international research community. Nearly 200 papers, book chapters, field guides and abstracts on Adirondack geology have been published with Jim's authorship, and that productivity will continue. No geologist enters the study of the Adirondack and Grenville Province (the larger tectonic unit including much of the Canadian Shield, to which the Adirondacks belong) without reading widely in McLelland's work, and Jim has helped a number of young scientists starting work in the area. Jim and wife Cathy are regular hosts to geologists from around the world at their lovely camp on Canada Lake in the southern Adirondacks.

     Among his faculty colleagues, Jim was an early advocate of liberalizing the educational experience for students, and his views often found him on the "wrong side of the administrative fence." He promoted affirmative action in faculty hiring and student recruitment at a time when Colgate was a very homogeneous place, and was a key faculty advocate for students involved in the 1969 sit-in.

     Jim also appreciated the more traditional parts of Colgate. A Yale alumnus with varsity football credentials, he saw the value in the scholar-athlete ideal and has been a trusted advisor to students in the ice hockey and football programs, and a vocal and devoted fan of Colgate athletics in general. Jim's Silver Puck award has a prominent place on the fireplace mantle at Canada Lake.

     Jim's warmth and generosity were also evident in the help he gave to alumni as they left Colgate for graduate school and jobs in geology. Many a carefully crafted letter of recommendation has made its way from his desk to a graduate admissions committee, and has helped to start a successful career.

     For those who have been his geology department colleagues, all have benefited from Jim's unfailing energy and enthusiasm for what we all love -- the study of the earth.

     Thanks for everything, Chief. We're really going to miss you.

Roy Bryce-Laporte offered good-natured guidance to his students in sociology.
Mentor and friend

by Luis Mateo '95

As the academic year comes to a close, Colgate will be losing one of its best professors. Roy S. Bryce-Laporte has been at Colgate for the past 11 years and during this time he has gained the respect of his colleagues as well as his students. I for one admire and respect Professor Bryce-Laporte as a teacher, friend and mentor.

     One of the first professors that I encountered at Colgate was Roy Bryce-Laporte. He was giving a talk to the OUS students, and ever since that day I have been impressed by his knowledge, his love for his profession and the caring that he shows towards his students. He gives of himself in the classroom as well as out of the classroom.

     During my four years at Colgate I took several courses with Professor Bryce-Laporte and I am even more glad now that I did. In his courses I learned about myself as a person and broadened my knowledge of the world.

     The first course I took with Professor Bryce-Laporte was "The African Diaspora" during my second semester on campus. Not only did I learn about myself and my history, but I also became intrigued by the social sciences and took more courses with him.

     Roy Bryce-Laporte has contributed to Colgate in many ways. It is going to be a sad moment for many students to see him go. I know from my personal experience as one of his students that without his friendship, mentorship and caring for my well-being as a person, I would never have gone as far as I have. I have kept in contact with Professor Bryce-Laporte since my graduation in 1995, informing him of my personal and academic growth in graduate school at Columbia. His opinions remain very important to me and that is why I constantly ask him for advice in all aspects of my life. He is my friend as well as my professor and this is a quality that has made him so special to his students. It is very hard to find a professor of his caliber, something that Colgate as well as past, present and future students will miss. It is difficult for me to put in words how much he will be missed. I know that even though he will not be teaching after the semester, his door will always be open to his students. You will be missed dearly, Professor Bryce-Laporte.

     I want to thank you for everything you have shown and done for me. You have been and will always be a very special person in my life, and I will always thank you for this.

     Good luck. I hope you enjoy your retirement.

Tom Brackett made invaluable contributions in chemistry and computer science.
Service to others

by Liz Brackett

A transition time, such as retirement, gives one an opportunity to look forward as well as back. With his sabbatical and summer vacations, Tom Brackett has for some time been looking at a new career focused on service to others. Little did he dream that he would end up living in a refugee camp on the other side of the world teaching English. It was an experience that not only changed his life, but introduced him to the struggle for human rights in Burma, and the different ethnic groups engaged in this struggle.

     Tom and I found the Karen people to be welcoming, eager to learn, and in spite of the harsh realities of their lives as refugees, incredibly cheerful. At the end of our stay, we promised to come back, and indeed have. Tom was soon bringing back Colgate students to share this experience.

     One year at Dr. Cynthia's Charity Clinic, he found a computer still in the box because no one knew how to use it. He was soon teaching a small group of eager medics the vagaries of Microsoft Word and Data Base. Another year, after poring over the characters in one of the few books printed in the Karen language, Tom developed a computer font for the Karen characters. He and his diskette were much in demand along the border that year, as clinics discovered they could keep patient records using the alphabet of the Karen language.

     Having finally noticed that the summer break meant leaving Hamilton during its loveliest months to go to Thailand in the rainy season, Tom started a phased retirement in '96, during which he taught half time, for one semester a year. This allowed a trip to Thailand during January and February, and was clearly a "win, win" situation with regard to the weather in both places.

     As our work with refugees became a bigger part of our lives, Tom and I started considering ways we might make this work more effective. We wanted to involve more people here in the United States, and to be able to start funding scholarships and educational projects for their refugee friends overseas. In 1997 Tom and I, joined by John Novak of the biology department, formed our own organization, The Brackett Foundation, dedicated to education for refugees. After Hannah Newhall '96 returned from an 18-month stay with the Karen people of Burma and Thailand, we asked her to join us as a trustee.

     Our time in Hamilton is now spent on spreading the word about the plight of the refugees, raising support for the foundation and administering various projects and internships for the refugees. We continue our annual trips to Thailand, no longer teaching there, but evaluating and overseeing projects, meeting with students on scholarship and interviewing applicants for aid. We have extended our travels to India to set up scholarships for the Chin people who fled from Western Burma, and even recently visited Aizawl in the restricted Northeast Territories of India.

     Each trip has its highlights, and this year was no exception. There were more interesting candidates for scholarships than ever before -- for example, a bright young Mon refugee who was so "turned on" by his first course in economics that he could hardly stop talking. And always there are many evenings with old and new friends, both the refugees and that diverse assortment of people of all ages engaged in trying to help them. One night we were walking back to the hotel from dinner with Dr. Leo and his pediatrician wife and new baby from Venezuela, and Curt and Cathy from Colorado, who were seeing the world on a tandem bicycle but stopped for a year to teach English and bike repair to teenagers.

     Tom exclaimed, "This is what I love about this place! Where else could I meet people like this!"

Thomas E. Brackett joined the faculty in 1963 as an assistant professor of chemistry, was promoted to associate professor in 1966 and full professor in 1973. He became director of the Colgate Computer Center while serving in the chemistry department and also chaired the computer science department into the '80s. His teaching specialties included computer architecture, graphics and VLSI, and his research was supported with an NSF Computer Science Grant at the University of Utah; a faculty fellowship at University of Edinburgh in 1970-71; and at Cornell University, where he was an NSF faculty fellow 1967-68. A 1954 graduate of the University of Maine, Brackett earned his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of California/Berkeley. He was an assistant professor at Rice University and the University of California before coming to Colgate.

Myra Smith was known as demanding and caring in psychology.
Brilliant, wise, warm

by Jeff Bjorck `83

I arrived as a freshman in the fall of 1979, full of excitement and just a touch of angst. At that time, Colgate matched incoming freshmen with temporary "freshman advisors." Given that psychology was my potential major, I was assigned to psychology professor Scott Kraly. He was an invaluable help in many ways, but his greatest service came toward year's end, when I needed to find a permanent advisor. He informed me that a respected colleague would be returning soon from a visiting professorship. Knowing that my research interests were more similar to this professor's than to his, Kraly suggested that I ask her to be my permanent advisor. I remain indebted to Scott for his recommendation, which profoundly shaped my Colgate education and continues to affect my life today. That profound influence was embodied in the person of Myra O. Smith.

     Upon meeting Professor Smith, I was immediately impressed with her brilliance, wisdom and personal warmth. Here was a scholar whose head was often in books but whose feet were both squarely planted on the ground! She made one feel welcomed and respected, whether in the classroom or in her home, where she would occasionally host dinner gatherings for her students. Whereas she clearly valued and expected serious study, she was also ready to tell a good joke or share a laugh. She worked hard at being available to students. As my advisor, she was a great listener and a wonderful mentor who gave frank but caring feedback.

     Professor Smith was also an outstanding teacher, although she could make an intimidating first impression! I clearly remember my first class. The seminar room had approximately 20 students crammed around a conference table. Professor Smith described her syllabus and expectations, stressing that hard work and active participation would be required. I recall feeling somewhat overwhelmed by her requirements. I also wondered how well a seminar could function with so many students. Upon arriving for the second class, my concerns about requirements grew, but my worries about class size vanished -- as had half the class. The students who dropped this course certainly avoided hard work, but they paid a high price. They missed the chance to learn from Professor Smith, who made learning an adventure.

     In addition to making learning fun and challenging, Professor Smith modeled excellence in general. Her expectations were high, but she expected no less from herself. During my Colgate years, I took as many of her classes as I could and consistently found them to be marvelous. She had not bluffed on that first day of class! The work was indeed hard, but it was worth it. In fact, her instruction and guidance played such a crucial role in my professional development that I am now a psychology professor myself.

     Professor Smith not only encouraged me as a student, but she has continued to do so since then through our yearly correspondence. When her New Year's letter this year announced her retirement, my initial reaction was protest! This was soon replaced, however, by happiness for my mentor and friend. Clearly, Myra has earned the right to give full-time attention to other interests, such as a toddling granddaughter whom she describes as "the love of my life!"

     How can 20 years pass so quickly? When I think of all the individuals that Myra has touched in more than a quarter-century of teaching, I feel more overwhelmed than I did that first day of class. I am sure that many of these individuals would strongly echo my admiration, so on behalf of all of us, thank you, Professor Smith!

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