Kolodny Served Wellesley as Student, Alumna, Teacher, Administrator, and Mentor

September 16, 2013

Nancy Harrison Kolodny '64, Nellie Zuckerman Cohen and Anne Cohen Heller Professor of Health Sciences and Professor of Chemistry, retired from Wellesley recently after 44 years of service. As President H. Kim Bottomly’s noted at Commencement 2013, “Nancy has given back to her alma mater in invaluable ways through her teaching, research, leadership, and service. She has been an important contributor and innovator in the Chemistry and Neuroscience Departments, and, more generally, in support of science at Wellesley and in support of women in science…. She helped strengthen the excellent liberal arts education for which Wellesley is known.”

In a celebratory reception in the Science Center on September 12, Kolodny's contributions to Wellesley and to women in science generally were extolled in greater detail, and colleagues, students, alumnae, and friends officially wished her a happy transition to professor emerita status.

Service to Wellesley

A 1964 graduate of Wellesley, Kolodny received a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969. As a member of the Wellesley College faculty from 1969 to 2013, she taught chemistry courses ranging from introductory chemistry to physical chemistry. Kolodny developed and taught The Nuclear Challenge, a first-year seminar that deals with nuclear issues beginning with the Manhattan Project and examining both nuclear weapons proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy, such as electricity production and nuclear medicine.

She was awarded Wellesley’s Pinanski Prize for Excellence in Teaching in 1991 and was cited as “an outstanding teacher, mentor, and role model for women in science who challenges her students to exceed their own expectations and also helps them build confidence in themselves as scientists.”

Chemistry Department Chair Adele Wolfson notes that “in addition to being dean of the college from 1992 to 1999, [Professor Kolodny] served as a class dean and as director of the Science Center on several occasions, and on just about every committee at the college. That list does not begin to describe the impact she has had on Wellesley College. Her roles as student, faculty member, and administrator have given her a unique perspective and have made her uniquely respected in the community.”

Recognized as an authority on nuclear magnetic resonance and its application to problems in medicine and biology, Kolodny received many prestigious grants and awards, including one from the Sloan Foundation for research on factors that influence women to pursue careers in science. Wolfson says, “Nancy’s research lab is one of the most productive and well-known labs on campus. The number of students and trainees who have come through her lab is really overwhelming, and they all continue to feel connected. When a current sophomore set out to make a video tribute to Nancy, it was impossible to contain the project. The video now stands at 30 minutes, with alums clamoring to be added.”

Beyond Wellesley

In addition to her contributions to the growth and well-being of Wellesley, Kolodny has been active in the Greater Boston Jewish Community, serving as president of the corporation of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston, president of Congregation Shaarei Tefillah of Newton, Mass., as a founding board member of the New Jewish High School of Greater Boston (Gann Academy), and as a member of the board of the Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik Institute.

And after Wellesley? Wolfson says, “Many of us at Wellesley and in the larger Boston community know Nancy as mentor and friend. Others have been lucky to know her as mother and grandmother. I can’t imagine Wellesley without Nancy, and luckily don’t need to since she will still be here in the research lab for at least awhile longer, engaged with students and colleagues in cutting-edge research. Nancy does it all and does it with style. She is the consummate teacher/scholar and mensch.”