Last Thursday, over 160 undergraduates, Geisel students, and members of the community gathered in Collis Commonground to honor Professor Lee A. Witters and Dr. James O’Connell. Dr. Witters is the Eugene W. Leonard 1921 Professor of Medicine & Biochemistry, and Professor of Biological Sciences at Dartmouth College. Dr. Witters has also served as the faculty advisor to the Nathan Smith Society for many years. Dr. O’Connell is the head of Boston’s Health Care for the Homeless Program and is the author of the new book, Stories from the Shadows. With Dr. Tim Lahey serving as MC, Dr. O’ Connell was presented with the inaugural Lee A. Witters Award for Outstanding Teaching and Social Justice. To honor Dr. Witters and thank him, several NSS members then shared reflections on what their relationships with Dr. Witters meant to them. These remarks are included in full below. The event concluded with a short speech by Dr. O’Connell, an interview, and a table discussion of Dr. O’Connell’s book. Huge thank-yous go to Valerie Orellana ‘15, Dr. Lahey, and Sarah Berger of the Health Professions Program for organizing every detail of the event, from the delicious Base Camp dinner to bringing Dr. O’Connell to campus to training the facilitators of the table discussion. Photographs above were taken by Josh Renaud ’17, Dartmouth College.

Most Pre-Health students have started countless days with the trusty 7 am email from Dr. Witters, and though he no longer serves as an official member of the Health Professions Program he founded, I feel incredibly blessed to have Dr. Witters as my professor, my mentor, and my friend. He quietly dedicates countless hours to his students, inside and outside of the classroom, giving us every possible tool we need to succeed. I don’t know of any other professor who hosts office hours 7 days a week, develops targeted study resources, monitors content questions in online student discussions, incorporates engaging, real world applications into lessons, and makes lecture recordings so that all students can have the same learning opportunity if they have to miss class – and I believe that is because Dr. Witter’s is a truly one of a kind educator. But what has helped me learn and grow the most, is having someone who wholeheartedly believes in me. For all the amazing work he does in Undergraduate and Medical school teaching and as the Nathan Smith Society advisor, it astounds me that Dr. Witters has the time and energy to invite me to his office for tea to talk about every student’s biggest apprehension – “the future.” Those conversations are the ones that really matter – Because reaching for big goals, and surmounting the many challenges in between the start and the finish is exciting, fulfilling and real when considered over warm drinks with a true friend. It’s these personal relationships that make Dr. Witters an inspirational mentor for me and so many other undergraduate and medical students.
-Emma Hartswick ’17

Dr. Witters is one of the closest professors I’ve come to know at Dartmouth. I’ve been lucky to experience his dedication to his students through Nathan Smith events, his weekend office hours, and celebrating or commiserating over the Red Sox. But one of the most immediate examples that come to mind of Dr. Witters’ dedication to his students is one from this past winter. About a week before MLK Day, I got an email that he had sent to his students that read as follows:
“Each year I invite my students to share a Martin Luther King moment with me on his national holiday. Dr. King was my college commencement speaker in 1965 at Oberlin College (just a few months after his receipt of the Nobel Prize and the tragedy of Selma), one of the most important moments of my own life. In 2015 my class relived that moment at our 50th reunion, a truly spiritual gathering that touched me deeply, as we all reflected on how his life had changed each of us so long ago. I would like to share some of those moments and also listen together to his speech to our class, a speech that is timeless and still so relevant in our turbulent world of today.”
This is just one example, but I think for me it sums up the kind of teacher and friend that Dr. Witters has been to me and many others. I’m grateful for the opportunity to get to know him and I’m happy he’s receiving this recognition. Thank you.
-Kevin Ma ’17

I’ve heard that Professor Witters has two goals for all of his classes: to make students feel uncomfortable and push them out of their comfort zones, and then, to help them become comfortable again and thrive in their abilities and learned knowledge. I haven’t actually had the privilege to take a class yet with the infamous professor who has office hours every single day of the week and makes sure that every student of his has tried oysters at Pine, but I have been fortunate enough to be encouragingly pushed in those ways from the intersection of our paths through the NSS. Recognizing my nervousness about approaching how to know a professor outside of a purely academic context, Dr. Witters gently insisted over time during our countless meetings for NSS that I bring over friends to cook dinner together, and I couldn’t be more thankful that he did. While cooking in a way oddly reminiscent of a chemistry lab (he was a chemistry major!), sipping tea by the fireplace at his spot at Pine, or enjoying cheese from the Middlebury farm his daughter used to work at, Dr. Witters has shared his own journey finding happiness and pursuing his dreams and interests in a way that seems nothing short of purely inspiring. By opening up in such a trusting way, Dr. Witters not only became one of the main people I knew I could go to for any piece of advice or help pursuing my interests in medicine, but also as a mentor who I could rely on for motivation, guidance and intellectual engagement. Using many stories from his wonderfully rich and vibrant life, Dr. Witters has taught all of the students he has crossed paths with that our undergraduate years are really a special time where we will make friendships and have experiences that shape the rest of our lives. Today, I hope he realizes finally, that he is the person who so many of us feel has influenced our lives in that very way.
-Valentina Sedlacek ’18

I am very grateful for Dr. Witters and everything he does for the pre-health community. Dr. Witter has been and continues to be an inspirational mentor for me and many others. I find it amazing that he founded the Nathan Smith Society which now consists of nearly a third of campus.
I was lucky to have been his student in Human Biology and everyone agreed he is an incredibly engaging and charismatic professor. We even acted out cellular respiration and I was a very enthusiastic part of the electron transport chain. Dr. Witters was the animated glucose molecule. No matter how tired or stressed I was that day, I would be completely alert in class and leave equipped with interesting knowledge directly applicable to everyday life. He makes an effort to know every student and takes everyone to lunch. He wants everyone to have the full New England experience, so I, like many other students in his class tried a raw oyster for the first time during lunch at the Pine.
He is also a very devoted and caring advisor. He is always available when I have a pressing concern. For instance, I was panicking one day because I had a pressing pre-health question while I was abroad in Vietnam last term, but Dr. Witters came to my rescue. He replied to my email the next day with a thoughtful response. Dr. Witters not only guided me throughout my pre-health journey but has helped me grow as a person. Thank you Dr. Witters!
-Amy Liang ’17