May 27, 2020

For the love of teaching

Honoring four retiring Andover legends
by Allyson Irish

An artist and mentor. A house counselor and science instructor. A mathematician and fisherman. A historian and world traveler.

The four 2020 retiring faculty members embody what is best about Phillips Academy. Excellence, of course. But more importantly these four longtime faculty members found a way to imbue rigor with kindness, humility, and a non sibi spirit.

Leon Holley

Instructor in Biology

Years at PA: 38

It was a Summer Session poster, taped to the wall of the Hampton Institute biology department, that was Leon Holley’s introduction to Phillips Academy. Finishing his master’s degree in biology at the historically black college in Virginia, Holley was encouraged to apply for a position by his department chair whose daughter went to Andover.

Holley applied and interviewed by phone with Elwin Sykes, then-director of Andover’s Mathematics and Science for Minority Students (MS)2 program. Although he had been unsure about the job at first, “Elwin really made an impression on me,” Holley says. And so began a nearly three-decades-long fulfilling career at Andover that started as an annual (MS)2 summer teaching gig and ended up landing Holley a job as a biology instructor and eventually department chair.

As a house counselor, girls’ JV basketball coach, teacher, and department chair, Holley was never one to yearn for the spotlight. His approach has always been to stay in the background and provide support; that’s what suits him and what alumni remember with fondness.

“I’ve tried to make the department more welcoming and to put everyone in a position to be more successful,” says Holley. “I see my job as a colleague and a coach as a way to enhance and improve others. I want to make others the best they can be.”

Pamela Williams ’00 remembers “how kind and supportive you were toward me even as I struggled through the course,” she says.

Rachel Shack ’04 commented on Holley’s “quiet power” and says she considers him an influential role model. “As my JV basketball coach, he knew how much I loved the game and gave me the freedom to be emotional on and off the court. He let me lead the team and slap the floor like my favorite Duke players, but he also led me and gave me the direction I needed to contain my emotions and use them productively to help the team. I really believe the way Mr. Holley treated me as a student–athlete and the structured freedom he gave me helped me to grow and develop as a player and a person.”

Mary Mulligan

Instructor in history and social science

Years at PA: 36

Mary Mulligan’s interest in American history started at a young age and was nurtured by her proximity to Washington, D.C., and a love of storytelling.

“What really got me going in high school was reading biographies,” she says. “I started reading Bob Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra and a biography of Thomas Jefferson. That was my entry point to history—through stories. And I still think that is one of the best entry points to history.”

Growing up in the D.C. area offered many early lessons on American history, Mulligan’s main area of research and tutelage. Her family often took advantage of their close access to visit museums and historical and cultural sites. It made an impression. Mulligan pursued a history major at Mount Holyoke College and then focused on a law career, clerking for Justice Herbert Wilkins of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and working briefly for Palmer & Dodge in Boston. But something didn’t feel right. After her roommate suggested a switch to academia, Mulligan applied for a job at Andover. The rest, as they say, is history.

“I feel like I hit the career jackpot,” Mulligan says. “Of course, there are tough and tedious things, but the actual moment of walking into the classroom—I have always loved that. It is an amazing feeling.”

Former students like Joanna Wang ’11 say Mulligan’s love of teaching and of history was apparent. “Ms. Mulligan taught my History 100 class and really set the bar for me on how truly caring and enthusiastic Andover teachers should be. She instilled in her students a genuine curiosity for history.”

Quint Finney ’18 says, “Ms. Mulligan taught me how to truly engage with history. She taught me how to understand history in context and apply that knowledge to the society we live in today. I am incredibly thankful for all that she offered in my educational progression.”

So how is this lifetime historian and teacher thinking of the next chapter in her personal story?

“I will miss walking into my classroom in Sam Phil and I’ll miss seeing my colleagues for sure,” she says. “One thing I know is that I love to teach and there will be other avenues to do that. I can’t imagine not teaching people.”

Bill Scott

Instructor in mathematics, statistics, and computer science

Years at PA: 33

During his 33-year career at PA, Bill Scott has worked with four different heads of school and witnessed many changes on campus and in the curriculum. But through it all there has been one constant: “I teach great kids,” he says.

The beloved math instructor came into teaching in an atypical manner—via deep sea fishing. Growing up in Connecticut, Scott summered on Cape Cod and worked on charter fishing boats as a teenager. “I had this passion for catching giant tuna.”

But tuna fishing is a tough and physically demanding career, and it’s seasonal. So Scott began teaching at Suffield Academy in the fall, winter, and spring. After a few years, he realized how much he enjoyed the classroom and decided to focus on teaching. He worked at Suffield for seven years and was hired at Andover in 1987.

Alumni say Scott was always caring and enthusiastic in all that he did, from providing a safe and stable home away from home in the dorm to creating a feeling of trust among students in the math classroom to instructing student-athletes as the boys’ and girls’ varsity soccer coach.

Alan Katz ’02 met Scott his first day at PA. The international student grew up in Venezuela where he had played soccer, but he had no plans to play in high school. Until he met Scott.

“Coach Scott—without knowing me—said, ‘I know you're going to be able to do it. Come try out.’ I would have missed out on one of my best Andover experiences if it weren’t for Coach Scott,” Katz says. “He saw something in me that I could not, and I will always be grateful to him for it. That is what I remember most about Coach Scott; he is an optimist and someone who makes people around him better and happier.”

Looking toward the future, Scott expects to be back on campus, eventually. His two infant grandchildren will likely hear a lot about Phillips Academy from their alumni parents and their two faculty emeriti grandparents.

“Maybe there will be a third generation of Scotts on campus someday,” says Scott. “If my grandkids went to school here, that would be amazing.”

Therese Zemlin

Instructor in Art

Years at PA: 18

The woods of northern Minnesota are a special place for Therese Zemlin, who recalls halcyon childhood summers spent roaming the forests and lakes around her family’s small cabin. “There was lots of unstructured time,” Zemlin says. Unhurried hours spent exploring and making things with her hands—using her father’s jigsaw to make puzzles and creating bridges out of found objects in a stream—became the foundation for Zemlin’s future work.

“My art begins as a desire to make something beautiful and tangible in response to the constructs of technology and society and the forms and phenomena of nature,” writes Zemlin in one of the artist statements she has developed to describe her work.

Zemlin began her career at PA in 2002 after teaching art at various colleges and universities. She says the first few years at Andover were rocky as she learned how best to teach adolescents.

“At first, I didn’t think it was all that different than teaching in college,” she recalls. “But then I started paying more attention and realized the students couldn’t produce what I was asking for—they really didn’t have any understanding of the concepts or the history behind the work. I had to adjust and provide more structure—more granularity—and to figure out how to balance information about art and artists with basic artistic concepts.”

Molly Ozimek-Maier ’07 says Zemlin’s quiet, calm, and soothing manner made her senior year art class a haven for students to explore their creative selves. “Art 500 became my release and my safe space,” Ozimek-Maier says. “Ms. Zemlin steadied the waters of my hectic life and I found the escape to the studio—and her guidance—transformative.”

With plans to move back to Minnesota and pursue art full time, Zemlin says there is much she will miss about PA: canoeing with students as part of Outdoor Pursuits and time spent with her colleagues.

“I’ll miss sitting down for lunch in Commons and having people at the table from the biology department, the math department, the English department,” she says. “I’ll miss all those conversations that just happen here—it’s made for a very rich experience.”

Categories: Academics

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