Q&A with Bill Mattson

Bill Mattson, Professor of Chemistry, Randolph College, 1980-2017

Bill Mattson, Professor of Chemistry, Randolph College, 1980-2017

Changing of the Guard: Bill Coulter | Paul Irwin | Bill Mattson | Ted Hostetler

What’s your favorite place on campus and why?

Back campus, looking back at the mountains. It is typically a clear, clean, and peaceful view that changes with the seasons but not with the national and international events in our world.

What will you miss the most?

Being in the classroom where, in addition to trying to communicate the discipline and life lessons, I try to inspire students to seek excellence. I have a special passion for my creative problem solving classes where the students develop a fluency and flexibility in their thinking and for my general chemistry classes where I have seen some average students accept the challenges and become excellent students.

What is your favorite lab for students and why?

My favorite lab experiences have involved students exploring chemistry/science in lab, rather than simply following a set of instructions.

These labs offer minimal directions and typically let the students develop self-confidence, improve lab techniques and communication, and creative and critical problem solving skills, and experience experimental design, working in groups, and the excitement of discovery.

Why has teaching been such a passion for you, and why was it important for you to spend your career at a small school like Randolph?

When I first came to R-MWC, I found an older, but newly renovated campus—the best of the past and the present. I was very much attracted to the strong traditions, including the Honor System. And perhaps most importantly there was a special community here.

I sensed that the faculty, staff, administration, Board of Trustees, and alumnae were all on the same page with respect to priorities—what is best for the student. It is an upside down business model, with the student at the top. That is a great model, one that attracted me here, and one worth continuing.

What’s your favorite memory here at Randolph?

There are many, most of which are associated with students and their successes and with the classroom. But there are also fond memories, and there was much to be learned and experienced when I first arrived on campus from a wonderful group of senior faculty, including Dave Anthony, Laura Bliss, Dave Cornelius, Bob Cornett, Muriel Dahlgard, Jenny deVries, Ernie Duff, Frank Flint, James Gibert, Francoise Jankowski, Ann Kimbal, Robert Lloyd, Van Lloyd, Helen McGehee, Jack Moehlenkamp, Ken Morland, Helen Morrison, Frank Murray, Tom Pasternack, Ed Penick, Jim Perham, Margaret Pertzoff, Margaret Raynal, Fred Rowe, Emily Ryals, Edwin St. Vincent, Tom Stephens, Carl Stern, Charlotte Stern, Shirley Strickland, Phil Thayer, Ivor Thomas, Jo Todd, and Elliott Twery, and perhaps others I missed in my list.

Faculty meetings were “fun” as many of these colleagues engaged in debate in faculty meetings that went beyond vigorous. There was even a need then for a sergeant-at-arms. The meetings were loud, truths surfaced, and deep friendships renewed themselves after the meeting.

What advice would you offer to new assistant professors?

Perhaps, I should state that they should not take advice too seriously from older professors who are retiring soon. But I will not. Instead I will suggest that they weigh sincere constructive criticism carefully; feel an obligation to voice what is on their mind, especially for unpopular issues; and recognize that they are among the luckiest people on the planet. Enjoy the responsibility and the ride.