Thanks to a gift from Mary Cornille ’82, a visiting professor joins Wellesley each year to offer unique learning opportunities to students and faculty.

Growing up on a farm in Illinois, Mary Cornille ’82 never imagined she would go on to major in art history at Wellesley, where her senior thesis on the portraits of the great Renaissance figure Cosimo de’ Medici received extraordinary praise. Mary went on to earn a master’s degree in art history from Boston University.

Because Wellesley had such a tremendous impact on her life, years later Mary and her husband, John “Jack” Cogan Jr., wanted to find a meaningful way to give back to the College. They sought out then-President Diana Chapman Walsh ’66, who suggested that bringing an outside luminary to campus each academic year would greatly benefit students as well as enhance the intellectual life of the entire College community.

Mary and Jack agreed, and in 2000 they made a significant gift to Wellesley to establish the Mary L. Cornille Distinguished Visiting Professorship in the Humanities. Cornille Visiting Professors are in residence at the Suzy Newhouse Center for the Humanities for a semester or a full academic year, becoming part of the campus community and giving students and faculty alike ample opportunity to take advantage of their expertise through courses, lectures, and seminars.

This spring, acclaimed Japanese writer Haruki Murakami returned to New England after a hiatus of more than a decade to join Wellesley as the Cornille Visiting Professor. He led a seminar focusing on what his fiction says about gender, where they read his short stories written in a woman’s voice and participated in free-form discussion. At the annual Cornille Lecture on April 27, he shared his reflections on writing fiction in an era of COVID and war.

Murakami joins an illustrious group of former Cornille Visiting Professors that includes Stephen Sheehi, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Chair of Middle East Studies and professor of Arabic studies at William & Mary; Rosemary G. Feal, executive director emerita of the Modern Language Association of America; and Emmanuel Akyeampong, Ellen Gurney Professor of History and professor of African and African American studies at Harvard and the Oppenheimer Faculty Director of the university’s Center for African Studies.

Mary herself has enjoyed learning from the professors, who have represented a wide range of academic disciplines. “As much as it benefits students and faculty members, this gift to Wellesley has also been a gift to me by exposing me to fields of study, topics, and professions in those fields, causing me to explore some of the topics beyond the year of a Cornille Professor’s visit,” she noted.