Catching Up with Becky Irving ’42 M.T.
Forever a Colby-Sawyer Icon

Nearly four decades have passed since Becky Irving ’42 M.T. last taught a course at Colby-Sawyer. But even all these years later, the former head of the college’s Medical Technology Program still remembers the majority of students who stepped foot in her classroom.

On the off chance she doesn’t remember someone, Irving, who turned 99 in August, 2019, has a few keepsakes to help trigger her memory.

Neatly tucked away in her residence, just down the road from campus in the lakeside community of Georges Mills, is a list of every student ever enrolled in the Medical Technology Program — a state-of-the-art bachelor’s degree program that prepared students for careers as clinical laboratory scientists. And if that doesn’t do the trick, which it typically does, Irving has grade books from each of the 28 years she taught at the college.

“Once in a while I like to look back to see if I can remember so and so,” said Irving, a member of the Class of 1942 and professor at Colby-Sawyer from 1954-82. “My kids do very well. They contribute a lot of money to the college — and in my name. So it’s nice to be able to look back.”

Her “kids,” as Irving calls them, are her former students — though many have since put their own children through college. And that money, mostly anonymous donations made in her honor, has helped ensure her impact on students will continue well into the future.

That’s because an endowed scholarship was established in Irving’s name in 2014, dedicated to her many contributions to the college and to her students. Scholarships are awarded annually to enrolled students in a health care related major whose values reflect Irving’s strength and integrity.

Becky Irving in classroom with student
Becky Irving ’42 MT handles a microscope with a student inside a medical technology classroom in Reichhold Hall in 1982.

“Becky is, and forever will be, an icon for those of us who were fortunate enough to sit in front of her in class,” said Ann Lozier Rohrborn ’71, a former student of Irving’s and a graduate of the Medical Tech­nology Program. “She was clearly behind us, and still is.”

That dedication was evident in the time Irving spent lobbying for her students.

With a growing Medical Technology Program during a period when clinical placements at hospitals were anything but guaranteed, Irving went to great lengths to ensure her stu­dents could fulfill the program’s internship requirement — students had to spend three years taking classes at the college before embarking on an internship at a hospital during their fourth year.

“If we couldn’t place the kids, we couldn’t take them in,” Irving said.

So, rather than face the prospect of having to turn a prospective student away, Irving wrote, telephoned and even drove to hospitals as far away as Ohio to make the case for her pupils. By the time she retired, Irving had success­fully arranged clinical placements for her stu­dents at 75 hospitals spanning 23 states.

Irving also played a pivotal role in ensuring that graduates of the Medical Technology Program had a fundamental knowledge in the liberal arts — something the college continues to require of its students today. Looking back, she remembers receiving some pushback on the idea from students who wanted to focus solely on science.

“I finally said to them, ‘Look, when you leave here, you’re probably all going to get married, have kids and you’re going to go out during social occasions — to parties or concerts — and not a lot of people are going to want to talk about blood and urine,’ ” Irving said. “I think that just about did it.”

For Irving, a fascination with health science began long before Colby-Sawyer.

Her father, Dr. Frederick Irving, was the chief of staff at a state-of-the-art maternity hospital in Boston, and her sister, Frances Irving, worked in the histology lab at Harvard Medical School. Irving said her sister would often bring cut up tissue back to the family’s home, and noticing her interest in her sister’s work, Irving’s father set up a room in the basement with running water and a micro­scope — effectively creating a laboratory all her own.

From then on, Irving said she knew she wanted to pursue a career in medical tech­nology, and began looking at colleges with programs in the field. At the time, only two schools in the country — the University of Minnesota and what was then Colby Junior College — offered degrees in medical technology.

“In those days, going to university out in Min­nesota was about a six-hour train trip whereas coming up here was about a six-hour drive with at least one flat tire between here and Concord,” Irving said. “I had an automobile and so I decided it would be much easier to come up to Colby.”

That decision, as it turns out, has impacted her in ways even Irving said she never imagined.

After earning her bachelor’s degree, Irving was called back to campus 12 years later to teach — and eventually head — the Medical Technology Program. In 1978, Irving was rec­ognized with the college’s Alumnae Service Award, and in 2016 — 34 years after she retired — she was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in recogni­tion of the positive, far-reaching conse­quences her life’s work has brought to Colby-Sawyer.

Even today, through a scholarship in her name and her continued support of Colby-Sawyer, Irving continues to inspire future gen­erations of health-science majors — many she’s never even met. Chances are, she’ll learn — and remember — their names.

For more information about the Rebecca “Becky” Irving ’42 MT Scholarship Fund, please contact Beth Bryant Camp ’92 at 603.526.3723 or ecamp@colby-sawyer.edu.