Hamline remembers professor Julia Saunders

Students and faculty share memories in honor of a late chemistry professor.

Nicole Ronchetti, Reporter

A friend, a mentor and a role model, professor Julia Saunders was many things to those at Hamline whose lives she touched. Known for her accessible teaching style and an unrelenting commitment to students, Saunders impacted the Hamline community in incredible ways before she passed away from cancer earlier this year.

A Hamline graduate herself (‘04), Saunders returned to her undergraduate university as a chemistry professor in 2016, where she would teach Gen Chem I and II, in addition to Advanced General Chemistry and Inorganic Chemistry.

A picture of Professor Saunders

Professor Julia Saunders, a Hamline graduate from 2004, touched many lives when teaching at Hamline. Students and faculty reflect on their many positive experiences with her before her passing this summer.

Saunders was many students’ first introduction to college-level chemistry, where she encouraged all of her students and catered to their different learning styles.

“She was the perfect professor for incoming students. She was just so kind and welcoming, and as a scared first year that’s exactly what you need,” said Ellie Kuchera, a senior and chemistry major.

The supportive environment created by Saunders encouraged a passion for chemistry and learning, something that Catherine Callahan (‘20) had lost before taking a class with Saunders during her first year.

“Right off the bat she was my favorite professor,” Callahan said, “She actually got me into chemistry, and got me back into loving school.”

Even after a few years, when Callahan had again become discouraged, Saunders was able to reawaken her passion for science.

“When I was having more problems, I had her in another class, and she reignited the reason I love chemistry,” Callan said. “She’s the reason I might become a teacher later in life.”

Both Kuchera and Callahan credit Saunders as the reason why they became chemistry majors, and emphasized the impact she had not just in her classes but outside of them as well.

“She was always that professor that cared about you and wanted to follow up on how you were doing,” Kuchera said.

Kuchera recalled a point in time where she was struggling and doubting whether chemistry was right for her. She went to Saunders’ office and received the advice that led to her declaring her major.

“She [said] ‘I believe in you, so you should believe in you. You shouldn’t doubt yourself because I don’t,’” Kuchera said. “I still think about what she said, and how I’m here now and I didn’t give up.”

Saunders’ commitment to students both in and out of class was also inspiring to her fellow professors and colleagues.

“She found enormous amounts of time to meet with students, help them, and advise them,” said professor Nicholas Schlotter, head of the chemistry department. “Julia made us all better teachers.”

Even during her battle with cancer, students remember how devoted she was to her students and her efforts to keep everyone’s spirits up.

“She was passionate, she was kind, she was always smiling. Even when she had the roughest of days she would make the class the best she could,” Callahan said.

Saunders’ time at Hamline has left a lasting impression, and the students who she inspired will continue to remember her and her legacy.

“She put her all into this school. Even if people didn’t have her I think she still wanted to have them succeed,” Kuchera said. “She was a light on this campus to so many people.”

Professor Julia Saunders leaves behind her husband Ben Saunders (‘04), and two young daughters.