Science Teacher Andy Harcourt will be retiring this June after 40 years at Deerfield. Throughout his time on campus, Mr. Harcourt has been involved in the return to coeducation, 85 seasons of sports, and numerous science classes, including the creation of the AP Seminar: Global H2O class.
While Mr. Harcourt noted that “some things have changed” over the past four decades, some haven’t, as he is still teaching AP Biology like he did his first year at Deerfield.
Over the years, Mr. Harcourt has been involved with a multitude of activities that affect nearly every aspect of campus life. He has coached soccer, hockey and tennis, and fondly remembers winning the New England Championships during his 12 years as the varsity softball coach. He is also, as Science Department Chair Mark Acton reports, “an incredible skilled mini-golf player,” as evidenced by his performances on the secret mini-golf course scattered throughout the Science Department’s office.
Mr. Harcourt has also been involved with the faculty band since his second year at Deerfield. He noted that it began primarily for student enjoyment, but it “turned into more than that,” and the faculty began playing at dances and clubs.
“It was fun while we were young,” he said, and it continues to be a “great way to have fun with people from other [academic] departments.”
Early on in his tenure at Deerfield, Mr. Harcourt was on the Dorm Advisory Committee, a group that initiated the introduction of associate faculty members in dorms. Previous to that, faculty members living in dorms were on duty every night, and Mr. Harcourt noted that he is “really proud of” his involvement in the change, despite the pushback he originally faced from older faculty members who didn’t want to have any more dorm duty.
Mr. Harcourt also began a science research program, introducing several new research courses. Originally, they were only for students who received a 5 on the AP Biology exam during their junior year, but Mr. Harcourt expanded the program greatly. Now there are about forty students involved in research courses at Deerfield each year.
He has also been heavily involved with sustainability efforts at Deerfield as the Chair of the Stewardship Committee within the Strategic Plan and as a co-teacher of the senior science course Research in Sustainability.
As Chair of the Science Department for seven years, Mr. Harcourt helped design the Koch Center, a building he said “more than anything has attracted science students to Deerfield.”
Dr. Acton noted a lesser-known responsibility of Mr. Harcourt’s: “He always brings in peanut M&Ms to the department and puts them in little candy dispensers which are labelled ‘Skittles’ even though they never have Skittles, only peanut M&Ms.” The science teachers then share the M&Ms as they take a break from class.
Reflecting on the changes that he has witnessed and spearheaded during his time at Deerfield, Mr. Harcourt said, “One of the things I value about Deerfield is that although Deerfield has been slow to change over the years, Deerfield embraces change. … The school is always looking for ways to get better, which I really appreciate. It’s important that we realize we’re not perfect, but we actively seek to get better all the time, which I really appreciate about this place. It’s one of the reasons I stayed.”
Mr. Harcourt also feels that the return to coeducation, one of the major changes Deerfield has undergone over the past 40 years, was “the best thing that’s ever happened to Deerfield,” saying, “Virtually overnight, Deerfield went from a good school to a great school.”
While some students “had trouble” letting the boys’ school culture go, he remembers that “most of the faculty were all-in [to returning to coeducation] from day one.”
He continued, “It was nice to be part of Deerfield earning a more academic reputation once we went to coeducation, because we were more known as an athletic school before that.”
Mr. Harcourt’s two daughters attended Deerfield after growing up on campus under his wing.
He said, “It’s hard to imagine a better place to raise kids, with the intellectual atmosphere and supportive community.”
He believes that his daughters “got the best of both worlds,” as they “got a Deerfield education and got to be day students, which gave them a little more freedom, and more sleep!”
Science Teacher Dennis Cullinane said, “To me, [Mr. Harcourt’s] most important contribution to our department and community is his ability to plug in with kids in his classroom, on the ice or field, in the dorm, and even at sit-downs.”
Science Teacher Mark Teutsch echoed this sentiment, saying, “Mr. Harcourt will be missed at Deerfield more than can be imagined, as his intellectual command of natural history, physical science and geology, when built upon core values he holds for environmental sustainability, gives rise to rich and detailed stories that come to life in his eyes, inspiring all those of us who have been his students, formally or informally.”
Academic Dean Ivory Hills said that Mr. Harcourt is “the embodiment of a keen intellect, industrious disposition, and a partially concealed whimsical nature,” noting, “He cares about rational thought, persistent curiosity and, of course, student development.”
Science Teaching Fellow Hannah Insuik ’13 had Mr. Harcourt as a softball coach for two years while she was a student.
She enjoyed a field trip about the geology of the Pioneer Valley that Mr. Harcourt led for the Science Department a few weeks ago, saying, “I was again astounded by his excitement and knowledge, and could have spent days listening to him speak.”
Cathy Poor ’97, this year’s Science Symposium featured speaker, had Mr. Harcourt for 9th grade biology, AP Biology, and as an advisor. She double-majored in college in chemistry and biology and then earned a Ph.D. “partly because of a love of science inspired by [Mr. Harcourt’s] teaching and being his classes.”
She said, “The reason I became a scientist has a lot do to with Mr. Harcourt.”
Ms. Poor remembered her 9th grade biology class, where she got a “very bad score” on her first quiz.
She credited Mr. Harcourt with breaking her into the “hard-core academics” at Deerfield, saying, “He is able to explain complex issues simply and make them understandable so that we can digest what he’s saying. … that’s a trait a lot of scientists don’t have.”
Ms. Poor fondly recalled Mr. Harcourt’s influence on her later career in science. At one point, she had to enter into a room of faculty members in college that would interrogate her on one topic in chemistry. She chose to be interrogated about water, because Mr. Harcourt had told her there were only three things about water she’d ever need to know.
Ms. Poor went to her Campbell AP Biology textbook — the same one Mr. Harcourt uses today — to remind herself of the material and aced the interrogation.
“He teaches the fundamentals that are pervasive,” Ms. Poor noted. “They’re not simple things … [but he] teaches so well and he can take them to a level that is understandable.”
“Deerfield has been so lucky to have him as a teacher and as an advisor and as a presence on campus,” Ms. Poor concluded. “I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like without him. He’s irreplaceable.”