For every student and alumni success story, there is a cast of supporting characters: the parents and families who help their children through life’s changes and stages. They play a major role in making a Colby-Sawyer education possible for those they love. From afar, and mostly behind the scenes, they’re essential to the success of Colby-Sawyer students and the future of the college. Though their stories and relationships with the school vary, they all have one thing in common: pride for their children-turned-college students.
Colby-Sawyer has 353 first-generation college students, composing 43 percent of the school’s population. Parents and families of first-generation students, like MaryEllen and Robert “Bob” Madden of Malden, Mass., experience the many “firsts” of college right along with their children.
The Maddens’ son, Bobby, is a senior athletic training major and baseball team member. With their only child headed off to college, and without their own college experiences to reference, Bobby’s parents were apprehensive. “I had the usual concerns,” MaryEllen said. “Will it be a good fit? Will he be happy? Will he achieve what he wants and be challenged? And what about his wellbeing and safety?”
MaryEllen’s fears were eased when Bobby got to Colby-Sawyer. “The moment Bobby set foot on the campus and met with his adviser to set up his classes, my concerns dissolved,” she said. “The community takes the time to know students, challenge them and help them achieve their goals.”
Bobby’s dad shares MaryEllen’s enthusiasm and believes Bobby’s friendships have also contributed to his son’s success. “The camaraderie of his entire team and the coaches is outstanding,” Bob said. “They’ll be Bobby’s friends for the rest of his life.”
For the Maddens, knowing their son is surrounded by caring faculty, staff and students and is benefitting from outstanding academic opportunities makes Colby-Sawyer “a perfect fit” for their family. “Colby-Sawyer has given Bobby all the tools he will need to go forward — from research on the Appalachian Trail to following a doctor at Dartmouth-Hitchcock,” MaryEllen said. “The person in front of me today has grown and matured; he has a strong sense of what he wishes to do with his life.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of Bobby,” Bob said. “He’s my hero.”
Far from Home
Most Colby-Sawyer students are from the Northeast. For those students and their families, peace of mind comes from knowing loved ones are just a car ride away. For others, including Paulina Olvera’s family, there is no such solace.
A junior majoring in child development, Paulina is a first-generation student from Sonoma, Calif. Since she’s their youngest daughter, Eladio and Sarah found it tough to allow Paulina to pursue an education on the other side of the country. “I grew up in a very traditional family, and I raised my children the same way,“ Sarah said. “To think about my daughter at only 17 going away so far wasn’t easy.”
Paulina’s acceptance to the Progressive Scholar Program, a program that provides education opportunities for first-generation students while increasing geographic, racial and ethnic diversity at the college, made the decision easier. “My head told me Paulina needed to seek a good education, but my heart was up and down thinking how far away she would be,” said Sarah. “I wanted her to have opportunities that not everyone has, and a good education.”
Though Paulina and her family regularly connect on Facebook and over FaceTime, the distance can be challenging. “It’s difficult when she doesn’t feel well and I can’t help her,” Sarah said. “We always worry when we see the weather is bad back East. And Paulina worries when she knows something has happened here.”
This fall, while Paulina was settling back into campus life, her family was being evacuated due to wildfires. “It was scary and sad to see so much devastation around us and so many families in need,” Sarah said. “I wished Paulina could have been here with us, but at the same time, I was grateful she was not in danger.”
Witnessing Paulina’s growth over the summer may have helped to ease the concerns that come with the distance. “I saw Paulina interact with a close family friend who has a special needs daughter,” Sarah said. “Paulina directed herself with confidence, and my friend [who is a school teacher] was amazed by Paulina’s professional way and knowledge. I was so proud.”
Building a Legacy
Students come to Colby-Sawyer in a variety of ways, and often it’s because they hear impassioned alumni speak about their experiences.
Judith Bodwell Mulholland graduated from Colby Junior College’s medical secretarial program in 1962 before marrying, starting a family and enjoying a successful career as an executive with U.S. News & World Report and publishing giant Courier Corporation. Now retired and living in Naples, Fla., with husband Bob, Judith remains grateful for her education on the Windy Hill. “Colby Junior College did much to prepare me and helped make my success possible,” Judith said. “The small-school environment, the opportunity to try new things and show leadership early, and the relationships with faculty added to my confidence.”
Today, Judith makes it a priority to stay connected to the college by speaking on behalf of Colby-Sawyer at forums, serving on committees, attending reunions and supporting outreach in her community. Together with Bob, Judith has also made Colby-Sawyer the beneficiary of a charity remainder unitrust.
As a true Colby-Sawyer champion, Judith, not surprisingly, has also made recruitment a priority. When the time came for her granddaughter to begin her college search, Judith encouraged her to consider Colby-Sawyer. “She was looking for a small school where she could have a close relationship with her professors,” Judith said. “She loved the campus.” Judith’s granddaughter, Callie Anderson ’19, a psychology major and legal studies minor from Amherst, N.H., has thrived at Colby-Sawyer. “I am so proud of the woman she has become,” Judith said. “Her success continues to be impressive.”
Judith’s grandniece, Avery Brennan ’21, a nursing major from Belgrade, Maine, also attends Colby-Sawyer. “She knew of my involvement, and Callie’s, with Colby-Sawyer,” Judith said. “[The college’s] nursing program, coupled with its involvement with Dartmouth-Hitchcock, made it her first choice.”
The three women have built a legacy, while Judith has further strengthened her Colby-Sawyer pride. “It’s the human interaction and the closeness, which facilitate lifelong relationships, that set this school apart,” Judith said. “Callie and Avery are strong, motivated young women. I could not be prouder of them, nor of the school they chose to attend. Their experiences serve to make me even prouder of the school and all that it offers.”