Dave Epstein ’86: Reflections on 15 Years of Jan Plan Teaching

This winter Trustee Dave Epstein ’86 is teaching his 15th cohort of students in his Jan Plan course on meteorology and climate, with an emphasis on critical thinking and communication skills. Epstein spent 16 years as a meteorologist at WCVB in Boston and now serves as a freelancer for WGME in Portland, Maine. While at Colby he was a biology major and member of the Echo and WMHB staff. Since graduating, he has always been actively engaged with the College—from fundraising in support of Colby students as a member of the Colby Fund Class Gift Committee to his previous representation of classmates as a former chair of the Alumni Council Executive Committee.

We reached out to Epstein to hear his reflections on teaching the next generation of leaders.

Colby’s Jan Plan is a unique exploratory term that allows students to focus on a single course, which often includes nontraditional opportunities for study. How is this type of academic experience different than a regular semester—for you as the teacher and for the students?

Since students are taking only this one course in January, we explore the topic in a deeper manner. While the course moves quickly, there is plenty of room for thought-provoking discussion and examination of anything students might think about when it comes to meteorology. I get to know students in a more meaningful way than I would if I taught two or three courses at the same time.

What is something you learned at Colby that you use every day in your work?  

When I was at Colby I was taught to look at things from many different perspectives. Don’t rely on conventional wisdom for the answer, dig deep and approach things with different lenses.

What is it about Colby and its students that makes you want to continue teaching this course every January? Do you have any particularly memorable moments from past years?  

I learn so much from my students. Many of them have become close friends. One even put me in touch with her father who created an amazing trip to Peru that I went on about 10 years ago. That trip would never have happened, and my experience would never have been as special as it was, had she and I not had a conversation about travel over lunch. Colby connections are so much of the Colby experience.

Dave Epstein’s 2020 Jan Plan class visiting WGME in Portland, Maine.

If each student could leave your class with one major takeaway, what would you want that to be and why?  

We live in a world with so much disinformation thrown at us. I want my students to look for answers from multiple sources and multiple perspectives as they solidify their own thoughts and answers to complicated questions, including how to forecast the weather of course.

As a Class of 1986 graduate, tell us about one of your favorite Jan Plan courses or experiences from your own time on Mayflower Hill.

Freshman year I took a Jan Plan on the Kennedy presidency from Professor Weisbrot. As a science-minded person, I had a world of politics illuminated for me that I still love.

You have been heavily involved with Colby since your graduation, acting as chair of the Alumni Council and now as a trustee. What keeps you connected? What has been the biggest change you’ve seen in the College over that time? 

I owe so much to Colby. My personal and intellectual growth can be traced back to my time as an undergraduate and continues to this day. I stay connected for the people I am able to meet. From a first-year student whose background is really different from mine to a fellow trustee who graduated years before or after me, there’s going to be something amazing I can learn. Hopefully I am able to contribute to their lives and they help me become a better person.