Colby Receives $1M Gift to Fund Environmental Studies Research and Resident Lectureship

Russ Cole at his retirement dinner. Photo by Fred Field

Colby College’s commitment to providing its students universal access to research experiences will soon be augmented by a $1 million gift honoring Oak Professor of Biological Sciences Russ Cole, who retires this year.

The generous gift from Trustee Anne Clarke Wolff ’87 and her husband, Ted Wolff ’86, will fund the Russ Cole Research Fellows Program and the Russ Cole Resident Lectureship, offering a new model for the research opportunities each Colby student can pursue and further connecting the liberal arts to the world. Colby is a global leader among liberal arts colleges in offering student research.

“It is often through research that students find the inspiration that sets them on a trajectory toward a life of meaning and purpose,” said President David A. Greene. “These experiences help them link their exceptional education to complex, multidisciplinary global challenges.”

The Russ Cole Research Fellows Program will invite students to submit research proposals focused on an environmental issue, challenge, or question. Projects can be pursued with Colby faculty, at a partner organization, or with another university. Upon completion of the Cole Fellows’ research experiences each year, Colby will invite a leading scholar or expert in environmental science or policy to campus for a weeklong residency. The Cole Resident Lecturer will participate in classes, meet with students, offer feedback on research, and deliver a high-profile keynote address for the College and local community.

Cole retires in June after 39 years as one of Colby’s leading teacher-scholars, mentoring and maintaining relationships with countless students. He is considered instrumental in positioning Colby as a national leader in sustainability and environmental education.

“The ripple effect of connections created at Colby can be difficult to quantify, but this is an opportunity to recognize the importance of a dedicated teacher and scholar with a gift that exemplifies those connections,” said President David A. Greene.

It was that type of connection that inspired the Wolffs’ gift. Ted Wolff ’86, an environmental studies major at Colby, was mentored by Russ Cole and has been a practicing environmental attorney for about 25 years. Before that, he worked as an environmental consultant focusing on projects for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “The Colby foundation that I received, especially Russ’s mentorship, has served me exceedingly well,” he said. “It continues to be true that Colby prepares its students for engaging and rewarding professional lives.”

“My nine years on the board have been focused on positioning our students for life beyond Colby,” said Trustee Anne Clarke Wolff ’87. “By integrating experiences outside the classroom and access to leading environmental thinkers with the world’s best teaching, Ted and I are confident Colby students will make a difference.”

Beyond the classroom and research lab, Cole played a central role in the development of the College’s Environmental Advisory Group and spearheaded many of Colby’s sustainability initiatives, including the exploration of biomass as an alternate fuel source. Colby was one of the first four colleges or universities in the U.S. to become carbon neutral, in 2013, and this month the College began work on a solar array that will provide 16 percent of its electricity.

Reacting to the surprise gift at his retirement dinner, Cole expressed his deep appreciation. “I’m especially grateful for the opportunities that future generations of Colby students will have because of Anne and Ted’s generosity,” he said.