When a beloved sociology professor died in 2013, a former student decided to honor the effect she had on his life.

Alumni Thankful for New College Experience

Robert Freedman
Robert Freedman

The New College community expressed an outpouring of grief when Dr. Penny Rosel, a former professor of sociology, passed away in 2013. One former student, Robert Freedman, was particularly struck by the loss. “She had a pretty huge influence on my life,” Freedman said. “I just connected with her. She was just totally different.”

Freedman, now a lawyer in British Columbia, decided to honor Rosel’s memory through a multi-year donation in her name to support New Scholars, the College’s annual showcase of undergraduate research. New Scholars is a way to sharpen students’ research and presentation skills and help them develop academically, he said. This year, it will be held on May 19.

Freedman graduated with a sociology degree from New College in 1987, a decision prompted by his studies with Professor Rosel. “I was focused on political science when I entered New College, and Penny taught me to expand my horizons. She actually lived [that sentiment] and made me do work outside my comfort zone,” Freedman said.

Dr. Rosel’s teaching methods weren’t always orthodox, but they helped challenge Freedman in new ways.

Dr. Penny Rosel
Dr. Penny Rosel

“I did a lot of work with Penny one-on-one. I did an ISP with her, a drawing one,” Freedman said. “I’m very left-brained, so she forced me to buy a big sketchbook and I drew stuff. It was a narrative and [the idea was] to use the parts of my brain that never got used.”

After graduating, Freedman returned to his native Canada to pursue law and built upon his experience that he gained at New College. “The main thing New College helped to teach me was how to think by asking questions rather than just jumping to answers,” Robert said. “It taught me how to think outside the box.”

He eventually settled in Vancouver and began practicing natural resource negotiations, primarily with First Nations, the indigenous peoples of Canada, as clients.

When coal mining, oil drilling, and other natural resource-based projects threaten Canadian tribes, Freedman steps in to help. “We negotiate for [the tribes] against the government, usually on industry projects,” Freedman said. “Companies have to deal with their rights.”

After establishing his law firm, Freedman made his first donation to New College in the form of a one-time endowment supporting the New Scholars showcase. Now Freedman is contributing again, in the name of the professor that had guided and shaped him through the years.

While the gift was meant to preserve Dr. Rosel’s memory, it was also meant to strengthen an educational institution that helped shape Freedman’s character and holds a special place in his heart.

“New College was the only [organization] I would’ve considered,” Freedman said. “It’s critical to give. Even five dollars counts. If the place meant something to you, you need to show it.”