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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, April 14, 2024

2 generations of Jumbos: Faculty with children at Tufts

Iman McPherson and Erin Kelly (left), Sam and Abby Sommers (middle) and Sascha and Daniel Denby (right) are pictured.

For the children of Tufts professors, Tufts University has played a central role in their lives. Now, many of those children have become Tufts students themselves. 

Here are the stories of Abby Sommers and her father Professor Sam Sommers, Iman McPherson and her parents Professor Erin Kelly and Associate Professor Lionel McPherson as well as Sascha Denby and his father Distinguished Senior Lecturer David Denby.

Abby and Sam Sommers

Tufts has played a role in Abby Sommers’ life since she was born. Her father, Sam Sommers, is professor and chair of the psychology department at Tufts, where he has worked since 2003. Now, a first-year at Tufts, Abby is thinking about majoring in film and media studies or biology.

Sam taught his first class at Tufts2 ½ weeks after his daughter was born. The university and the campus played a significant role in her childhood. Abby grew up visiting campus frequently to attend camps and courses. She recalled watching women’s basketball games and sledding down President’s Lawn in the winter months with her family.

When it came time for Abby to decide on a college, she said Tufts was one of her top schools. The school had pretty much everything she was looking for in a university, though she was hesitant, at first, to attend a school where her father works.

I will admit that I wasn’t immediately super excited to be 20 minutes away from home or go to school where [my father] works. But I think now that I’m here, especially for the first semester, being able to go home, if I needed to, or get stuff from home if I needed to, or go see [my father] in his office in the middle of the day if I needed to, that kind of thing was nice,” Abby said. “So, I think I was a little bit nervous about it at first, but it’s turned out to be a positive thing.”

Even though they are on the same campus and Abby is not far from home, she is able to have the college experience she had hoped for.

I think I’ve made a point of trying to stay on campus [though] I definitely do go home occasionally,” Abby said. 

Sam said he has enjoyed having his daughter on campus and his main wish is for his daughter to be independent and happy regardless of which college she decided on.

“I wouldn’t want her to go here if she didn’t want to be here,” he said. “But, I mean, I can’t lie and say, I’m not happy to have her around.”

Even though they enjoy seeing each other, they are able to have their own experiences on campus.

“I think we ran into each other going to [the] COVID-19 testing center by surprise, but otherwise … it’s a big campus, it’s a big enough place and I don’t hang out near the [Residential Quad]. And I don’t hang out in the dining halls and [Abigail doesn’t] hang out in the psych department. So we can do our own thing,” Sam said.

Sam noted that he has appreciated gaining more insight on the student experience since his daughter started studying at Tufts.

Every email I get now that’s sort of a nervous first-year student trying to declare a major or getting in touch and saying, ‘I'm having difficulty with the transition,’ it’s hard not to hear each of those emails and be like, ‘My kid easily could be sending that same message to her professor right now’,” Sam said. “I hope … to respond to these students in a way that I would hope that my colleagues respond to her or her friends.”

Sascha and Daniel Denby

For senior Sascha Denby, roaming the halls of Tufts is a familiar endeavor. His father is David Denby, a distinguished senior lecturer in the philosophy department.

Tufts was pretty much always in the cards for Sascha. Having interacted with various faculty members alongside his father growing up, he saw Tufts as a great opportunity to continue to learn and grow.

“[It] was definitely compounded by the positive experiences I had had with Tufts,” Sascha said. “So it wasn’t as if it was just this option that I had that I had to take. But it was something that I was actually excited for — a good opportunity.”

In terms of interacting with each other on campus, Sascha was actually a student in a few of his father’s classes. He explained that being in his father’s classes was a cool experience in terms of seeing his father’s work within a new context.

“I’ve seen [my father’s teaching] obliquely, like maybe [watching] him recording his slides or something like that … but never kind of in that direct context in the kind of way it’s meant to be experienced,” Sascha said. 

David echoed that having his son in class was a fun and normal experience.

Having Sascha in the class was not terribly different from having him at home. As [Sascha] says, it’s a kind of different context … I’d just treat him as any other student,” David said. 

When asked about his plans after graduation, Saschaexplained that he aspires to attend law school, and that he attributes his father’s role in philosophy as having been a factor in shaping this plan.

[It] was due to my experiences with philosophy, which obviously, I took because of [my father] … ”Sascha said. “My general upbringing, the inclination toward philosophy that I had, the interest that I had, pushed that [interest in law school].

As Sascha moves on from Tufts, David expressed sadness but steadfastness toward continuing his work.

It’ll be a shame. He’s moving on. …  So I don’t move on. I’m kind of just here,” David said. “Whereas for Sascha, there’s college and then there’s something else and something else.

As David and Sascha reflected on their overall experience together at Tufts, they both expressed their appreciation of the supportive but not overbearing nature of their relationship.

“There’s been that proximity without it being kind of suffocating. It’s not as if we’ve been kind of forced into each other’s spaces,” Sascha said. “But we have been there for each other and always had that access.”

Iman McPherson and Erin Kelly

Few know the Tufts experience as well as Iman McPherson. Iman is a senior and her parents, Erin Kelly and Lionel McPherson, are both professors in the philosophy department.

Iman’s Tufts experience began when Kelly enrolled her at the Eliot-Pearson Children’s School. Iman attended the school until second grade and also attended various Tufts-sponsored camps

“Now almost graduating, things have really come full circle, because it was my preschool and now college”, Iman said.

Iman explained that during her college search, the university wasn’t the most appealing option at first.

“Tufts didn’t feel like the most exciting option because it’s felt really familiar, it’s like 20 minutes away from my house and … I’ve been around Tufts for my whole life,” Iman said.

Despite her initial reservations, Iman explained that, over time, she grew to appreciate Tufts as an enriching college experience.

“It did not end up feeling too familiar,” Iman said. “It ended up still being a totally new experience which makes sense, because college is just a whole new experience, a new chapter in your life.”

For Kelly, having Iman around was an exciting experience because it gave her new insight into different aspects of university life that she was unaware of before.

“It kind of introduced me to Tufts in a new way,” Kelly said. “I think it really sort of reinvigorated some of my passion for teaching and just attentiveness to the undergraduate experience.”

With plans to move to Boston next fall, Iman will be farther than she’s ever been from her parents. Kelly expressed some sadness about Iman McPherson’s departure, as well as excitement for her future.

“Well, it will be a little sad … not to have her around,” Kelly said. “Boston is not so far away, but I won’t be running into her just by chance.”

Iman again expressed her appreciation for her Tufts undergraduate experience, stressing that prospective students who are the children of faculty should consider Tufts as a legitimate school to attend.

“I’d say for other kids of faculty, I know sometimes people are nervous, like how I felt nervous to go to Tufts [because] I was worried it would be too familiar,” Iman said. “I would say to them that that was not a problem and that I would definitely take Tufts as a serious option. College is still going to be a new experience no matter what.”