Share / Discuss

Congratulations, Retiring Faculty

Rachel Merz
Walter Kemp Professor in the Natural Sciences

Arriving at Swarthmore in 1985, Rachel Merz researched ecological and evolutionary questions. A marine biologist, she led students on global expeditions and inspired many to pursue science.

She began her career as a teaching assistant in the Department of Biology at Western New Mexico University, and went on to teach in the Department of Zoology at the University of Flordia, the University of Chicago, and the Marine Science and Maritime Studies Center at Northeastern University. She chaired the Department of Biology at Swarthmore from 1992–1999 and earned two Eugene M. Lang Faculty Sabbatical Fellowships, in 1989 and 2014–2015.

She was president of Swarthmore's Sigma Xi chapter from 1991–1992 and secretary from 2011–2013; and served as the entire organization's president for two years and vice president for one. Among the many Swarthmore committees on which she served were ones on faculty procedures, climate action, environmental studies, promotion and tenure, as well as Title IX.

She also delivered 2018's Baccalaureate address. Before that address, her colleague Liz Vallen introduced her, saying:

"I could tell you what an amazing researcher Rachel is and how many publications she has authored, many with Swarthmore students. I could talk about her inspiring and captivating lectures, her ability to make everyone she interacts with more caring, kind and thoughtful, and the transformative work she has done in our Department and in the College and how much better Swarthmore is because of it.  

"But I think that Rachel asked me to introduce her because we are friends. And so I introduce her to you as my friend.

"The bittersweet part of doing this is that Rachel is moving across the country in a few weeks and it’s going take more work to be friends. It has been easy to stay connected here. I could stop by her office when I wanted to share an idea, needed advice or a hug, or wanted to have lunch. I think that many of you understand exactly what I mean and how hard and scary it is to contemplate her moving.

"I had a dream a few weeks ago that doesn't take much psychoanalyzing: We bought three different alligators for a project we were doing in the house. Hey, it was a dream! One was small and reasonably well behaved. The second had teeth that were like a baleen whale, so it wasn't very good for the project. The third was huge and escaped its cage and had gotten up the basement steps and I was trying to hold the door shut and it was trying to get out and I was worried it was going to eat the cats and I kept telling my husband 'call Rachel, call Rachel, call Rachel' because I needed her. But she had moved. And then I woke up.

"Like I said, you don’t need a degree in psychology to figure that one out.

"I shared the dream with Rachel, who told me, 'Those nasty alligators better keep their distance' and promised to help me to continue to fight them. And I know that she will. And from her friendship and guidance, I am also better equipped to fight alligators myself. And she has helped me make new friends who can fight alligators too.

"I hope that the extraordinary people you have met here, like Rachel, have helped you fight your alligators, and continue to do so. And that your time here has helped you become better equipped to fight alligators yourself.

"So, I want to introduce Rachel Merz. An extraordinary scientist, teacher, person, friend and, apparently, alligator wrestler."  

Watch her Baccalaureate address here.

Mike Mullan
Men’s Tennis Coach

Arriving at Swarthmore in 1978, Mike Mullan led his men’s tennis team to three NCAA Division III titles and served as a professor of sociology. He will continue to teach at the College.

Read a tribute to him by Steve Tignor ’92 here.


Don Shimamoto
Professor of Mathematics and Statistics

Arriving at Swarthmore in 1985, Don Shimamoto researched algebraic and differential topology and computational geometry, usually related to trying to find geometric ways to think about all the possible configurations that a given system can attain, for instance, particles moving about in space or robot arms or origami patterns as they unfold. He taught a wide variety of mathematics courses at Swarthmore and his publications include two articles coauthored with Swarthmore students: Catherine Vanderwaart ’03 and Mary Wootters ’08.

Spending his summers and sabbatical leaves from Swarthmore as a visitor to Universidade de Sao Paulo at Sao Carlos, University of Oxford, University of California at Berkeley, Mathematical Sciences Research Institute In Berkeley, and Brandeis University, Shimamoto served as chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics for four years (1993–1996, 2007–2008), Chair of the Division of Natural Sciences and Engineering for six years (1999–2000, 2005–2007, 2009–2012), and College marshal for 10 years (2001–2011).

He was also faculty speaker for the Class of 1999 at both First Collection (1995) and Last Collection (1999) and was also the curator of the Swarthmore Topology Film Festival (1986–2016).