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Housefellow from the 1970s returns to Abbey House

At the invitation of current students, Penny Howell ’75 stepped back in time last month and returned to Abbey House, where she was a housefellow 35 years ago.

Howell, a marine fisheries biologist at the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, talked with students about life on campus in the 1970s, before the internet, cell phones and e-mail.

Technology makes it easier to keep up with people in real time, but it removes some spontaneity, she said.

She got the invitation through Melanie Bender ’10, who did an internship with Howell at the DEP last summer. Bender, the housefellow at Earth House/360, suggested her friends at Abbey invite Howell to talk during a “Dessert and Dialogue” event.

One of the perks of being a housefellow in the 1970s was the telephone in the housefellow suite, Howell recalled. “My residents would always knock on my door and ask to use the phone, otherwise they’d be forced to use the House’s pay phone,” she said. “They always paid me back, but not in money; I ended up with a lot of records that way.”

Today the housefellow suites still have telephones, but every room has one as well. The house pay-phones have disappeared, replaced by the ever-present cell phone.

Students in the 1970s also had to call or visit professors instead of e-mailing them.

For Howell, a zoology major, the relationships she formed with the Connecticut College faculty were some of the highlights of her college experience. She was especially fond of the late Bill Niering, a botany professor, who became her mentor and helped her find jobs after graduation.

-Laura Marenghi ’12

December 9, 2009