Surrounded by leafy potted plants and taxidermied birds in Gelb Science Center, Marc Koolen, Instructor in Biology, explains the structure of the triglyceride molecule with his trademark “three fatty-acids and a glycerol” jig. For over 39 years, Koolen has shared his passion for biology and ornithology with Andover students.
Koolen grew up in West Caldwell, NJ, and developed his interest in biology after taking an introductory course at the James Caldwell High School. One of his tenth grade instructors also inspired him to join his school’s science club.
“When [my high school] developed an advanced biology course, which I took in 12th grade, that just sewed it up–that [biology] was what I wanted to do,” said Koolen.
Koolen continued his study of biology in college. He received his bachelor’s degree from St. Lawrence University in 1972.
After graduating, Koolen spent a brief amount of time in the army when he was drafted as a reserve officer during the Vietnam War. Although he never went abroad, he completed Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) training in college.
Koolen discovered Andover in 1974, after his girlfriend at the time became a teacher at the school after its merger with Abbot Academy.
Shortly after, Koolen joined Andover as an Instructor in Biology.
In addition to Biology 100 and Biology 540, Koolen also teaches science electives in ornithology and animal behavior.
Although he had never studied animal behavior in college, Koolen began teaching the course at Andover in 1981.
“The more I read [about animal behavior], the more I wanted to read. I was always excited to teach it. That was when I knew that this is what I really love,” said Koolen.
After realizing his interest in animal behavior, Koolen said that the school encouraged him to pursue a master’s degree in the subject. While working on his degree at Purdue University, Koolen took his first ornithology class, which introduced him to yet another one of his passions.
Koolen considers birdwatching to be one of his favorite pastimes. Koolen particularly appreciates the challenge of identifying different species, including his favorite bird, the American Woodcock.
The distinct traits of different bird species, such as their behavior, appearance and feeding habits, fascinate him.
He is also amazed by the ability of birds to survive each winter, complete long-distance migrations and avoid predators. “Mother Nature has equipped them beautifully,” said Koolen.
At Andover, Koolen has promoted the well being of birds on campus by setting up birdhouses and feeders on the grounds. He used a grant from the Abbot Academy Association to fund the construction of a bird blind, a shelter used to view wildlife in close proximity, near Highland Road.
In addition to teaching biology, Koolen has also spent two decades as a house counselor, moving from Draper Cottage to Nathan Hale House, Adams Hall, Alumni House, Fuess House and finally Tucker House. He also served as cluster dean in West Quad South starting in 1989.
Koolen also coached Varsity Boys Soccer for 18 years, Varsity Basketball for a year , and was an assistant coach for Boys Cross Country. He also coached Boys JV2 Lacrosse, although he did not play the sport growing up.
“The students just keep me young. I mean, I may be physically aging but the fact that I could keep running cross country until I was almost 60–the credit [goes to the students] because over the summer I’d [say to myself], ‘I’ve gotta get in shape. I’ve gotta get ready for these guys.’ I had to be alert, mentally alert, and keep [exercising],” said Koolen. “The good news is [the students I work with] stay the same age as I get older.”