Learning By Doing
January 2, 2012
Michael Blair '12 converts bacon grease to fuel with the biodigester he built during his 2010 internship on the College Farm.
When Michael Blair ’12 looks back on his time at Dickinson, it’s tempting to allow what he’s done to overshadow what he’s learned. In less than four years, he’s taught English to Korean immigrants, managed a fundraiser and written grant applications for Carlisle’s Employment Skills Center, helped repair hurricane-damaged homes in New Orleans, designed and built a biodigester to convert organic waste into fuel, and traveled to Israel to see firsthand how a desert ecology shapes the economic and political issues surrounding sustainability.
But, as Blair is quick to point out, a lot of learning resulted from all that doing. “All of these experiences have taught me so much,” explains the environmental-studies major from Califon, N.J. “I’ve learned leadership skills, responsibility—all of the intangibles you can’t get in the classroom. It’s all helped me grow immeasurably. I’m definitely a different person now than when I came in.”
That kind of hands-on learning, says Blair, is the difference between a Dickinson education and what he might have gotten elsewhere. Experiences like semesters abroad in England and Israel, three service trips to New Orleans and an internship on the College Farm have lent life to Blair’s lessons in ways textbooks alone never could.
“It’s a huge advantage Dickinson has over other schools,” he explains. “In the environmental-studies department, for instance, we go out and see the things we’re studying. We work with them hands-on. I was able to work with biogas on the farm, go to a natural-gas plant, see wind turbines. We have LEED-certified buildings right here on campus, so we can see sustainable construction firsthand.”
It all would have been impossible, however, without the scholarship that made Dickinson affordable for Blair’s family. “I have a twin sister going to college at the same time,” he says with a laugh. “Without the scholarship, I wouldn’t be here. And if I hadn’t been able to come here, I don’t think I’d be the same person I am today.”
That’s exactly why donors like Tom Zug ’68 support scholarships at Dickinson. Understanding the transformational power of a Dickinson education, Zug, who has endowed several scholarships on his own and with his brothers, sisters and cousins, sees scholarship giving as a way to create opportunities for young people to maximize their potential.
“Dickinson offers students so many ways to gain leadership experience,” says Zug, a history major who went to officer-candidate school in the U.S. Navy after graduating, earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and launched a successful investment partnership with his brother. “I know that Dickinson had a big impact on me, so when I make a gift supporting scholarships, I’m sure that gift will have a big impact on students.”
But, as with all scholarships, the true impact of Blair’s scholarship—and the donors behind it—will likely reach far beyond Dickinson. After graduation Blair plans to attend graduate school in environmental studies, and he hopes to one day use what he learns to help create a more sustainable future.
“My dream would be to work on renewable energy in a Third World country,” he explains. “I’d really like to take some of the things I’ve been able to learn here and bring them to where they’re most needed.”