Three Beloved Sarah Lawrence Faculty Members Retire

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself,” wrote John Dewey.

At Sarah Lawrence, our passionate faculty members, the fabric of the College, live this ethos. Since the College’s establishment in 1926, our dynamic professors have shaped the Sarah Lawrence experience with their exceptional dedication and curiosity. For this, our gratitude knows no bounds.

It is our honor and privilege to celebrate three extraordinary faculty members who retired this year. Their contributions to the College are truly remarkable.

Mary Hebron, Art of Teaching

Mary Hebron came to 1 Mead Way in 1985 with a clear mission: to assist in developing the College’s acclaimed Art of Teaching graduate program in elementary education, at the invitation of Sara Wilford, the program’s founder and longtime director. For Hebron, children are always at the center of the teaching equation. With her passion and dedication, she made an immediate and sustained impact: helping graduate students find their unique voices, so that their students, in turn, have the freedom and capacity to do the same.

When Hebron began her work at Sarah Lawrence the former teacher and primary education consultant recalls being impressed by then-president Alice Ilchman’s steadfast support for a graduate teaching program that would align and resonate deeply with Sarah Lawrence’s long-established commitment to its pedagogy. Hebron says, “She was an amazing supporter. Dewey is the center of undergraduate education at the College and his philosophy is one of the centers of our program.”

For more than 30 years, Hebron has been instrumental in building a program that is highly acclaimed and truly progressive. As a designer of many of the program’s courses, Hebron assisted in ensuring that the program’s approach to teaching be dynamic, ever-evolving, and profoundly meaningful. Former Dean of Graduate Studies Susan Guma notes: “Mary has been instrumental in creating a curriculum that is built on the pedagogy of Sarah Lawrence, that of theory into practice and a curriculum which is truly integrated and interdisciplinary in approach.”

In the classroom, she has been meticulous, thoughtful, creative, and inspirational. Her students have cited her impeccable note taking and observations, as well as her ability to weave together diverse student perspectives with theoretical material, creating cohesive, personal reflections on education.

Kathleen Ruen, the current acting director of the Art of Teaching, recalls Hebron as a teacher. She says, “Like many of Mary’s students before and after, I have been seen, valued, and heard. In turn, the students of Mary Hebron have been able to see, value, and listen to the children they have taught. These are ripples that have no end.”

Integral to Hebron’s philosophy is the use of Prospect’s Descriptive Processes, the collaborative effort to share observations about each child and explore ways to support and expand the child’s interests developed by Patricia Carini of the Prospect School and Center. Hebron brought this practice into her classroom and encouraged contemplation amongst her students. Sarah Mathews, an Art of Teaching graduate and current teacher at the College’s Early Childhood Center, says, “This attention to reflection that Mary instills in her students is a true gift.” Mathews was especially moved by Hebron’s ability to help students see their students—and themselves—from fresh and deeply considered perspectives. Mathews adds, “With Mary’s help, I cultivated my own deep convictions and beliefs regarding children’s agency and voice.”

Her efforts have been exemplary outside the classroom, too. In 1987, Hebron began facilitating Saturday Seminars, four professional development workshops per year, aimed at supporting Art of Teaching alumni and their colleagues in the field. If participants choose, Saturday Seminars now count toward New York State requirements for professional development.

From the start, Art of Teaching professors have remained involved in area schools, including those in which Art of Teaching students are placed, so that the faculty can, as Dean Judith Babbitts says, “prepare generations of students for the changing demands placed on the nation’s educational systems and its teachers.” Hebron has been a vital source of connection, building quality, respectful relationships with teachers, school administrators, and students. Alumni have continually contacted her for mentoring and for help in finding placements in progressive public schools, a supportive role that Hebron plans to continue post-retirement.

Hebron reflects, “I’m so grateful to have been able to stay firm in the convictions with which we began, to hold true to what we value for children. I will miss my colleagues and the students. I love the content of the Art of Teaching courses—I’m going to miss that, too. It’s been a wonderful and beautiful experience.”

Wilford says of her former collaborator, “She will always be the heart of Sarah Lawrence’s Art of Teaching graduate program.”

Mission accomplished—and then some.

Leah Olson, Biology

When Leah Olson joined the biology faculty in 1987, the College’s individualized liberal arts education resonated with her own academic background. She had studied at Evergreen College in Washington State, where she started out in the humanities and eventually drifted over to science. “I had the experience of studying science because I loved it and the freedom to go at my own pace. I was drawn to the Sarah Lawrence view of education as pursuing passion,” she says.

In her tenure at the College, Olson has seen science grow from a “poor cousin” of liberal arts into a lively, vigorous community. She says, “Now students like to identify as scientists—that’s a huge change and really rewarding.”

No doubt, Olson’s vital presence on campus has played a huge role in this shift. With a background in neuroscience, Olson has always been mindful to craft courses that will appeal to students, including “Drugs and the Brain,” “The Biology of Sex,” and “The Feeling Brain,” a popular course that explored the biology and psychology of emotions, which Olson co-taught with psychology professor Elizabeth Johnston.

An editor from W.W. Norton discovered the syllabus for “The Feeling Brain” online and asked Olson and Johnston if they would consider writing a book based on their engaging course material. Johnston says of the 2015 publication, “Leah’s intellectual style is rigorous, with a drive for clarity and precision. Her astonishing work ethic turned it into a much more substantial book project than we’d envisioned at the beginning.”

In addition to her role in the classroom, Olson also participated in many committees on campus, including for faculty searches and curriculum development. Olson participated in the hiring of biology professor Drew Cressman and became his faculty don. He says, “When Leah speaks, she carries a certain air of thoughtfulness and authority. Within the science community and across disciplines, people really respect that.”

Her energy and drive have made a lasting impression. Johnston says, “Her originality comes through in many ways, but especially in her intellectual work—she’s not bound by convention. I saw that in the classroom, too, her ability to help students think creatively, but rigorously about scientific projects.”

If Olson made her mark on campus, the community—especially the students—made their mark on Olson. She says, “It’s so fulfilling to work with Sarah Lawrence students. You can take them seriously because they motivate themselves so well. It’s really great to see.”

Marilyn Power, Economics

Marilyn Power, who joined the economics faculty in 1990, has been especially adept at planting powerful seeds at Sarah Lawrence. With her students, she is skilled at generating thought-provoking discussions and encouraging original thought. Amongst her colleagues, she led by example, illustrating her uniquely grounded way of how to listen, how to mentor, and how to speak up when it matters most.

Marilyn Power came to Sarah Lawrence after more than a decade of teaching at a number of other colleges and universities, attracted by Sarah Lawrence’s progressive pedagogy, with its emphasis on interdisciplinarity, small class size, and independent learning.

“Sarah Lawrence allowed me to teach economics as it used to be taught in liberal arts colleges, before unfortunately being replaced in many cases by uncritical and purely technique-based courses,” says Power. “My students happily took on challenging original texts by classical economists, thought carefully about methodological and theoretical disputes among schools of thought, and were able to critically examine all sides of complex policy debates. The College’s encouragement of critical analysis and independent thought made for an incredibly rewarding teaching experience, and I believe that it prepares students extremely well for their futures both in work and as community members and citizens.”

In her academic life, Power has been a true trailblazer. In the classroom, she brought a rich sense of history, institutions, and social inclusion to economics. When Power earned her doctorate from the University of California-Berkeley in 1977, she pushed against the administrative grain to include an institutional analysis of gender and power. She brought this perspective to Sarah Lawrence, focusing on issues of gender, race, and class. She has long been active with the International Association for Feminist Economics and on the editorial board of its member publication, Feminist Economics.

Says her economics colleague Jamee Moudud: “Marilyn’s critical approaches to economics—and, in particular, heterodox economics, by its nature, fits like a glove into the liberal arts curriculum at Sarah Lawrence. Her teaching from the comparative economics perspective, involving the teaching of both neoclassical and political economy perspectives, was instrumental in strengthening our discipline’s intellectual core and how we teach.”

Her commitment to environmental sustainability also shaped her academic interests. In recent years, Power taught a course on political economics of the environment. Moudud says, “Marilyn really reinvented herself with the study of ecological economics. She became an expert on sustainable development.”

In that capacity she spearheaded a multi-year Mellon Foundation grant in environmental studies, which infused sustainability into courses in the arts and other disciplines. As a founding member of the campus-wide sustainability committee she was at the forefront in encouraging environmentally sound practices on campus.

Marilyn’s commitment to her students helped them negotiate the realities of post-graduate life, economics faculty member Kim Christensen notes: “She has been very, very dedicated to her students’ development, intellectually, emotionally, and personally. To say that she is a ‘good mentor’ doesn’t quite capture what Marilyn does; she’s an incredible guide.”

She has also displayed remarkable integrity: concepts of fairness, justice, and equality were not mere concepts to be discussed in class. She has advocated for economic equality on and off campus. Kim Ferguson, the Roy E. Larsen Chair in Psychology, remembers how supportive Power had been of a family-run childcare center in New Rochelle, where many faculty members have brought their children. “When she thought that they should increase their rates, she paid them extra, emphasizing the importance of fair wages and taking care of themselves,” recalls Ferguson. Ferguson also recalls how present Power was for many young faculty members, including herself, who were trying to balance work and family life.

Power’s steadying and progressive presence on campus will be sorely missed. Says, Christensen, “If you can convince her to stay, I would love it.”

About Sarah Lawrence College

Founded in 1926, Sarah Lawrence is a prestigious, coeducational liberal arts college that consistently ranks among the leading liberal arts colleges in the country. Sarah Lawrence is known for its pioneering approach to education, rich history of impassioned intellectual and civic engagement, and vibrant, successful alumni. In close proximity to the unparalleled offerings of New York City, the historic campus is home to an intellectually curious and diverse community.