June 03, 2024

For the love of teaching

Saluting two retiring faculty with a combined total of 46 years of service to Andover
by Nancy Hitchcock

Phillips Academy’s primary dance choreographer for 29 years, instructor in theatre and dance Judith Wombwell rejoices in fluid movement. Her vision has shone brightly in performances such as The Nutcracker and Appalachian Spring. Elly Nyamwaya, instructor in English, uses the written and spoken word to encourage students out of their comfort zones and expand their perceptions of the world—and ultimately themselves.

These two retiring faculty members, while practicing in disparate fields, both shared a desire to learn and teach, and a commitment to PA’s longstanding mission of non sibi.

Elly Nyamwaya

Instructor in English
Years at PA: 17

When Elly Nyamwaya first arrived at PA in 2007, he brought with him a student-centered teaching approach established while working in Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Looking to create an atmosphere where all students feel comfortable, Nyamwaya incorporated engagement with student-led discussions and presentations to the class. “I want every student to find an entry into the discussion,” he explains. “You have to create the environment where everyone is comfortable, and everyone has a chance to say something.”

Over the years, Nyamwaya has taught a variety of courses, including “African Identities in American Literature” and “American Identities in African Literature,” which explore an array of American and African texts and films. He says the assortment of classes gave him “an opportunity to introduce voices and settings and experiences that were different from what most of my students were exposed to.”

Nyamwaya is admired by students and colleagues alike for his wisdom, calming presence, kindness, and thoughtfulness. Corrie Martin, instructor in English, praises his mentorship in particular, saying, “Elly has done so much to teach our students to be globally minded thinkers and creators. I will continue to be inspired by his love for teaching and learning, and for our students.”

Patrick Rielly, another colleague, agrees, noting that students often rave about the “transformative experiences” they've had in Nyamwaya’s classes. “Elly’s name has become a byword for the kind of classroom experience that students know will elevate them and bring them closer to their best selves,” says Rielly. “As they move beyond Andover, they know they are better off for having shared classes with Elly.”

Judith Wombwell

Instructor in Theatre and Dance
Years at PA: 29

For nearly three decades, Judy Wombwell has infused the Department of Theatre and Dance with passion and creativity. “Gorgeous, just gorgeous,” she praises as students mimic her dynamic dance moves in the Pan Athletic Center’s dedicated dance space, the Abbot Academy Dance Suites. Her teaching and generous affirmations have uplifted and inspired countless students, a few of whom have gone on to professional dance careers.

Wombwell’s tenure saw the department expand from teaching primarily ballet to a wide range of styles, including modern and contemporary techniques. Thanks to the Kayden Fund, established in 1970 to bring professional artists to campus, she was able to bring renowned artists to campus to enrich students' exposure to diverse forms of dance. Innovative dancers and choreographers included Kyle Abraham, Rennie Harris, and Trisha Brown. “These have been spectacular opportunities,” says Wombwell.

For many years, Wombwell produced the beloved community performance of The Nutcracker, that included not only students, but also staff, faculty, and faculty families to join the cast.

“Judy is such a passionate advocate for the arts,” says colleague Stephanie Curci, instructor in English. “Her work on ‘The Nutcracker engaged the full PA community and her generosity of spirit, patience, and love were visible in each and every performance.”

Collaborations with other departments led to innovative courses and performances, such as Dance on Camera and shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland. Wombwell also directed Appalachian Spring and Dido and Aeneas, cherishing the opportunity to combine live music with dance.

Wombwell’s expression through movement flourished with a Kenan Grant, which enabled her creation of Earthworks, a performance that blended desert Southwest improvisations with a stunning visual backdrop.

“What an incredible gift you have been to this community,” said faculty colleague Ellen Greenberg. “You never seemed to be doing a job. You were sharing love and passion, encouraging creativity, raising children and students to be part of a larger effort and collaborative space. Thank you for all the time, energy, and love.”

Portrait photography by Dave White

Categories: Academics

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