Professor profile: Cindy Colburn

Staff Writer

By day, she is Dr. Cindy Colburn, associate professor of Art History. By night, she is simply known as Mom. Other people would have trouble raising three children, teaching at a college, and doing tons of research in her field, but Colburn is used to managing all three. For five years now, Colburn has been playing the role of teacher and mother.

“There’s a lot of cross-over,” said Colburn. “I love working with my students and I love being with my family, my children.”

It makes her world a lot easier to have children who understand the nature of mom’s work and students who express genuine interest in her family. Colburn doesn’t even recognize too much of a divide between the two. Colburn attribute this to living on campus and having friendly neighbors.

“Pepperdine is a great place for raising a family…,” Colburn said. “And I chose my husband very well. He does 50 percent, if not more.”

With three children, Grace who is 5, Stefan, who is 3 and a half, and Aidan, who is 2 months old, Colburn is always busy, yet stays dedicated to her profession. She enjoys playing with her children and even bringing them to work occasionally. Her two oldest children not only enjoy when mom watches them play sports, but they also enjoy going to museums with her. Both children, who enjoy the Getty Museum and the children’s center there, light up at the mere mention of coloring and art.

Though Colburn is devoted to her family, she is revered as an exceptional professor here on campus by her peers and students. Two months ago, in the midst of the birth of her third child, finals were in full swing. Colburn went into light labor during finals. But, even after she arrived at the hospital, Colburn continued to work: grading papers and answering e-mails.

“I think that’s incredible,” said Dr. Cathy Thomas- Grant, chairperson of the Fine Arts Division. “That’s just one of the most amazing stories in the world…I don’t even know what light labor is!”

Colburn’s work ethic is admired by many who come in contact with her. Her passion for the subject of art history seems to shine through everything she does and is revealed through her long list of credentials, including receiving her doctorate in art history from UCLA, being a member of the Archeological Institute of America, and being awarded the Harriet and Leon Pomerance Fellowship in 2003.

“Her credentials are outstanding,” said Cathy Thomas-Grant.

Colburn is qualified not only by her personal achievements, but also by her passionate outlook on art history and her students. For those who knew her  in college, this may come as a surprise. Colburn started off as a political science major and even worked at a law firm. After studying in Florence and Paris, and with little money to do anything other than visit art museums, Colburn found her passion for art history and changed her major.

Upon returning to the United States, Colburn worked to put herself through college and continued to visit museums. Between working and studying, she still found time to attend LACMA’s jazz nights every Friday. Colburn knows about hard work and how much dedication it takes to achieve your goals and the addition of an art history program to Pepperdine’s curriculum was accomplishment that gave her the opportunity to showcase her abilities. 

For 12 years, Colburn’s colleague, Sonia Sorell, an associate professor of art history, was pushing for an art history major. Finally, in 2003, the Fine Arts Division added the major, with Colburn hired to teach one of the courses.

“At that point, we knew she was indispensable to the program, so she was hired full time,” said Sorell. Now Colburn has helped to polish the program and serves as its coordinator.

Students thoroughly enjoy her classes. “She not only demands a lot from her students and holds them to a higher level as far as academics and intellectual growth goes, but she also cares about them,” said Lindsay Tuggle, a senior art history major.

Colburn is known for the time she devotes to her students both inside and outside of the classroom. From organizing lectures and field trips, to helping them consider graduate school and snag internships. Dr. Colburn does it all and still has time to complete various research projects.

Art history majors go on to obtain careers in communications as editors or arts programmers; in technical areas as appraisers or attorneys; and in the education field as curators or professors. As an educator though, the job takes a lot more than just rattling off facts.

Colburn who believes that, “…the best teachers are good researchers,” has done her fair share. For the past six summers, she has participated in an archeological dig. Colburn always returns from her travels with lots of insight for her students.

“She’s been a lot of places, which I think always helps because she can tell us all about it,” said Jessica Piepgrass, a junior art history major. “When we talk about the Greek and Aegean in class, she has a lot of pictures because she’s been there. It always helps to have a first-hand account."

On a dig in Italy, Colburn who is fluent in Italian had the pleasure to be the translator for both the Italian and American groups involved. In dealing with the different personalities and techniques of both groups, Colburn said that she became more sensitive to the different approaches and was satisfied with the experience of coming together with an international group. Even as an educator, Colburn still learns new things, including the biggest lesson from this dig: “there is no one way to do things correctly when it comes to archeology.”

In some cases, Colburn invites students to participate in her research projects. Last summer, senior Joshua Damian served as the senior copy editor for a work she co-authored with Dr. Maura Heyn of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Damian, who had to make formatting changes to the volume had to become familiar with one of the most difficult citation styles: the Chicago Style for Humanities. “…but Dr. Colburn was right there alongside me, helping me through, and now, I definitely feel like a pro.”

Damian added: “It was great to work with her on a one-on one basis, getting to see how our professors stay active within their respective academic fields, and how she herself was in “research” mode.”

Along with bringing her own experiences to the classroom, Colburn also gives the students a chance to hear other voices in the art history field. Through a generous donation from a family, Colburn was able to install the Art History Society Lecture Series.        

The lectures, which usually focus on something prevalent to her classes, were started as a two-year series and are hosted twice a semester. The lectures have been popular among students and faculty, and it is no wonder. Dr. Colburn has great connections. She knows people in the community, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, and with the Art History Society. Her tireless efforts are the impressive factor that make the series successful and draw such esteemed scholars.

“That’s something every university should have, and that’s something Cindy [Colburn] has opened up for all of us,” said Dr. Grant.

Students also agree that the series has brought prestige to the art history program.

Dr. Cynthia Colburn is a professor to watch. She is passionate about her career and family. She is a modern day “Super mom.”

Senior Lindsay Tuggle sums it up: “She has a great career, a great family, and is a role model for her students in addition to being a mentor to many of us studying art history.”