Longtime psychology professor known for his passion for teaching, sailing, and playing guitar
It was 1986 when Don Lynch, who at the time was working as the clinical director of outpatient mental health services at Community Health and Counseling Services in Bangor, stumbled across an ad in the paper from Unity College. The College had an opening for an Assistant Professor of Psychology, and Don quite liked the idea of having May, June, and July free to tend to and cruise around on his sailboat. So, he applied, got the job, and over the decades became part of the fabric of the Unity College community in so many ways.
In January, after 32 years at Unity College, Dr. Don Lynch decided it was the right time in his life to spend a little more time sailing on his boat — named Solitude — around Blue Hill Bay, and announced his retirement.
Dr. Lynch has been instrumental in not only teaching psychology to thousands of students over the past 32 years, but also in creating Unity College’s Adventure Therapy undergraduate program, and winning an uphill battle for approval.
“It was unheard of because most adventure therapy degrees are graduate degrees,” said Dr. Lynch. “There was a lot of opposition among certain vocal members of the faculty, and from other colleges. I was getting emails from all over the world that said you have no business offering a degree in adventure therapy to undergraduate students.”
After a little bit of research, he found other therapy programs — including respiratory and physical therapy programs — at other institutions of higher education offered as undergraduate degrees. Eventually, the Unity College faculty was won over by Dr. Lynch, and in the early 2000s, the Adventure Therapy degree was launched.
“As a professor, he was very dialed in. He would always come in with his manila folders filled to the brim with notes and lecture materials, and he had a very in-depth style in class,” said Dr. Will Hafford, Associate Professor of Adventure Therapy at Unity College. Dr. Hafford was not only a colleague of Dr. Lynch’s, he was also a student of his as an undergraduate at Unity College beginning in 2004. “And then on a personal level, he’s just a rad dude.”
Beyond being a dedicated faculty member who livened up his classroom with real-world anecdotes and humor, which many would also consider “rad,” Dr. Lynch is a seasoned guitarist. He helped form a band with several of his colleagues in the 90s and 2000s called Gary and the Pacemakers. By day Dr. Lynch would teach students intro to psychology or group process and management, and by night he would shred on the guitar at the student center, jamming out to classic rock songs and entertaining a packed house of Unity College students.
In his home just 20 or so minutes from Unity College’s flagship campus, Dr. Lynch has a room where his guitars hang on the wall. “That’s a copy of the violin bass that one of the Beatles played,” he points to the one furthest on the left, and then gestures to another on the right. “And that’s my Telecaster. That’s my favorite guitar.”
While his music made an impression on many students, and probably took more than a few by surprise, it was his teaching, of course, that yielded some of his greatest accomplishments at Unity College. Inspired by Dr. Lynch, Dr. Hafford went from his undergraduate experience at Unity College to get a doctorate in Psychology and his clinical psychology license. Another student who also returned to teach at Unity College is Dr. Kayla Higgins, who went on to get her PhD and now teaches part-time at the College.
“When I think of Don Lynch, I think of sitting in class, watching him talk passionately about something he knew so much about,” said Dr. Higgins. “He was an amazing professor, and is a dear friend. Of all the things you forget as your college years get further and further away, I’ll always remember classes flying by, enjoying my time listening to Don, and learning from him.”
“You don’t get more multifaceted than Don Lynch,” said Dr. Melik Peter Khoury, Unity College President. “Whether it is playing guitar with Gary and the Pacemakers, counseling students one-on-one, teaching multiple programs, or sailing, Don Lynch is a true renaissance man. At a time when Unity College was solidifying its place as America’s Environmental College, Dr. Lynch was vital in creating a program that has become a staple in the College’s Adventure Programs. In many ways, his work in founding the Adventure Therapy degree led to one of our major gifts — Sky Lodge — as we had the experience, expertise, and presence that made it a perfect fit. For all his work over the years, we are so grateful.”
“For many years, my office was located across the hall from a classroom, which gave me the opportunity to learn about a wide variety of topics as I eavesdropped on lectures ranging from statistics, to animal behavior, to psychology,” said Dr. Erika Latty, Unity College’s Chief Academic Officer. “Based on those experiences, I can tell you that Professor Lynch’s courses cover some of the most intriguing topics and listening to bits and pieces of his lectures I grew a strong appreciation for how Don wove intricate understandings of human behavior into our curriculum and thereby the knowledge base of our students. Thanks to Don, our students have been leaving Unity College as more holistic thinkers and compassionate leaders.”
In addition to his accomplishments in helping students realize their future and helping to launch the College’s Adventure Therapy program, Dr. Lynch was certified Behavior Health Professional trainer, which is the only certification an undergraduate senior could get that was reimbursable by third-party payers. It makes BHPs a commodity for employers.
As Dr. Lynch settles into retirement, he’s looking forward to the upcoming sailing season, maybe strumming a bit on his guitars every so often, and even adjuncting a bit here and there. Old habits die hard. “It feels a little strange,” Dr. Lynch said of waking up without having to be in the classroom. “I do miss teaching.”