A Studied Spruce Up
Michael Pennington '07 uses legacy to improve library study room
by Heidi Hormel '85
January 23, 2007
Michael Pennington '07
mid the architectural elegance of the Waidner-Spahr Library, a space as simple and practical as Study Room 7 is easy to overlook. But to Michael Pennington '07, this little corner of the library has been important enough to inspire a gift so generous that his grandmother would be proud.
A part of succeeding in college is learning how best to study—something that can take different forms for different students. Early in the morning or late at night, in dorm rooms or Adirondack chairs or in the Quarry—students find their own ways to learn. Pennington's best study time has been in the library, in part because he makes good use of the dry-erase boards available in the study rooms there.
But one study room—number 7—lacks that feature and, for some reason, in the library's new online reservation system, Pennington has usually been assigned there.
The library staff always helped him work around the glitch, but the missing board bothered Pennington—and he came up with an unusual solution. From his grandmother, Katharine Penny, he had inherited some money, which was helping to pay for his education. Pennington decided to use the remainder of his inheritance to fix the problem.
He approached the library staff about making a donation of $1,500 that would buy a dry-erase board for Study Room 7 and, if there was enough left over, spruce up the room, too.
"It was the best use for the money," Pennington says. "It's what my grandmother would have wanted. She taught her children and her grandchildren to value education."
The library staff was pleasantly surprised.
In eight years at the college, Maureen O'Brien Dermott, team leader of library's access services, cannot remember another student donation to the library, other than gifts made through the Friends of the Library.
Eleanor Mitchell, director of library services, agrees that this sort of gesture is rare. "It's very moving. He's leaving something that the other students can relate to," she adds.
As it turns out, Mitchell says, a dry-erase board was already on order through the regular budgeting process, so Pennington's gift will be used to purchase a leather chair for the room, making it more comfortable for students to study there.
Pennington plans for this to be the first of many gifts to the college. He sees these commitments as the legacy of his upbringing and points out that donations support scholarships and advance the innovative work that has made Dickinson a leader in liberal-arts education. In turn, he says, the school's reputation makes his degree ever more valuable in the working world.
"Dickinson is on the map," he says.
Pennington obviously takes academics seriously, but he also has tried to do as much as possible on campus both in- and outside his comfort zone.
In keeping with his majors, political science and policy management, Pennington is senior class president and a member of the Student Senate, chairing its senior-class committee. He's a member of Alpha Lambda Delta, an academic honor society, and Omicron Delta Kappa, a leadership honor society.
And as part of his goal to do something different each year he was on campus, Pennington has been a varsity tennis player, a member of the choir and a writer for The Dickinsonian . He also fit in a semester at Richmond, The American International University in London, through the American Institute for Foreign Study. Most recently, he won a part in the Mermaid Players' production of Urinetown, The Musical .
As he nears graduation, Pennington looks back on how close he came to attending another college. On the day he first toured Dickinson, he had just mailed a letter of acceptance to another liberal-arts college. With the help of a family friend—who happened to be a postmaster—Pennington's parents retrieved the letter, and he quickly submitted an application to Dickinson.
The campus tour had made a big impact on Pennington.
"When we got to the library, that sealed the deal," he says. "It's really the best."
Pennington says that he plans someday to go for a master's degree, but first he's set to work at a commercial real-estate company in York, Pa., where one of his associates—a Yale grad—commented that Dickinson was a "phenomenal school."
"It's great to feel like I got to go to the best school in the country," Pennington says. "I'll be very emotional when I graduate."
Katharine Penny would be proud.