December 10, 2003
There is a period near the beginning of every man’s life when he has little to cling to, little to support him, and Nowhere to Go But All Over the Place - E. B. White
Last summer 15 Wabash students from Texas, Calcutta, Indiana, and Washington fanned out over the world as Dill Interns, a group named for G. Michael Dill ’71, who created a fund, managed by the Dean of the College, to support off-campus study. Dill was moved to establish this fund by one line in the Case Statement for the Campaign for Leadership that says tuition never pays the full price of a Wabash education.
"I believe Wabash exists for students on campus right now," he explains. "It always has and I hope it always will. I don’t have enough money to build a building, but I love Wabash students; loved them when I was there, and love them now. They try so hard."
That’s putting it mildly.
For a young man, travel to a new destination is a learning experience that heightens the excitement brands each memory on the brain. After all, the traveler is not suddenly in Paris; he had to go there, which involves a passport, reservations, finding a program of study, and housing. Each procedure is a lesson of its own. In the case of the Dill Interns, those responsibilities are Phase Two. They come after the would-be traveler has figured every aspect of his study program, received approval and guidance from a professor, figured out a comprehensive financial estimate, written a persuasive proposal, and met with the committee composed the assistant dean, director of career services, and a faculty representative from each of the three academic divisions. It is not an application process for the faint of heart, but it is well worth the effort, even the promise to write a summary of the trip upon return.
"The world makes way for a resolute soul"
Lanky, longhaired Andy Shepherd learned some important lessons about travel during his Dill Internship; indeed, he learned some important lessons about life. Foremost among those would have to be: Sometimes nothing goes the way you wanted it to and/or though it should. That is not to say he didn’t have a good internship, but simply to note that his experience included surprises.
Andy came to Wabash College from Dublin, Indiana, east of Richmond, near the Ohio border. He is surely one of the few students nor or ever to come to Wabash because it is so big. Dublin is that small. Andy grew up one of six children in a family so grounded and interesting that all six siblings have or will attend college, but every one of them with different interests and a different major.
Andy majors in music and history. He played piano since his second grade teacher recommended the study of piano as a good way to help occupy his busy mind. With six children in the family, a piano seemed a luxury until Mrs. Shepherd explained to a kind seller why she needed it and couldn’t afford the asking price. Andy’s first gift of song was that piano, sold to his mother for one dollar.
The investment still pays benefits. Andy has become interested in arranging music for chorus and in composition, which he asked to pursue with a Dill Internship. He just needed someone in music to mentor him and a little luck in keeping his car performing well enough to take him to his destination.
Enter Life Lesson #1: In April Andy’s car broke down. He had to spend all his savings and dip into Dill Internship money just to get the car repaired enough to take him to Erie, Pennsylvania, where he had found a musician to work with him and a small but affordable apartment.
The story almost takes on saccharine overtones at this point, but there’s nothing saccharine about Andy Shepherd. There is sense of humor coupled with high intelligence (a 3.7 GPA at Wabash) and good common sense.
Andy’s mentor Erie helped him very much, but the man had a job building a new church facility, as well. In order to spend as much times as possible with him, Andy worked on the church, too. Then he became part of the Pentecostal congregation, a move that gave him some new spiritual perspective, which, he reports, made his life a little clearer.
Then there was the apartment he rented over the Internet. It was less (far less) a duplex than it was the back third of an unsightly house trailer. A convicted felon, recently released from prison, occupied the front rooms.
"I just kept thinking," says Andy, "that if somebody wanted to break into the trailer, they’d have to go by him first to get to me and my stuff. I actually felt pretty safe."
Andy still had to come up with money to repay the deficit caused by the April car repair, so he took a job at a branch of the discount chain, Big Lots. Although he had never even considered such a thing before, the responsibility made him think he might enjoy a career in retail management.
The centerpiece of all this activity remained composition. Even with the other commitments on his time and energy, Andy learned plenty about music, not the least of whichwas that he still has a lot to learn about composition itself and the legalities governing publishing.
When the Wabash Glee Club performed in Tulsa earlier this spring, Andy Shepherd hurried to see Mike Dill after the program to thank him again for last summer’s opportunities. Of Dill he says: "He is a really nice guy. He cares enough about students to fund our work directly. When we (the Glee Club) traveled to St. Louis another trustee spotted us to a symphony performance. This College is entirely focused on students. That’s what’s great about it. I have benefited directly from the tradition of the College and would be willing to pass it on."
That is Life Lesson Number Two.
"Travel Changes Your Life"
Spending the year after graduation in the quiet of a Benedictine monastery in Italy might seem too great a change for Bryan Gonzalez ’03 after these last four years at Wabash. He entered Wabash as the recipient of a Presidential Scholarship, Multicultural Scholarship, and Honor Scholarship. He has worked in the Admissions Office; been a resident advisor in a dorm; worked as a "sandwich artist" (his description) at Subway restaurants and summer research assistant for Dr. Donald Shelbourne ’72; belonged to the Sphinx Club; tutored children at the Malcolm X Institute; been a student senator; volunteered at his church; ran track and cross country; and re-established the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, now one of the strongest student organizations on campus.
It’s funny how it worked out about the Benedictine monastery, but gifts often manifest themselves in unexpected ways.
Bryan knew that he had received a Dill Internship to travel through Greece, Italy, and Germany to expand his understanding of his Wabash major and minor, religion and German. The first three weeks were spent in Greece in the company of Professor John Fischer, whom many Wabash men know to be an extraordinary host, as well as teacher. Bryan describes reading The Odyssey and The Oresteia in Cultures & Traditions and his being shown Delphi, Olympia, Argos, and Corinth by John Fischer H’70 as "a full-circle experience."
Later he traveled to Norcia, Italy, the birthplace of St. Benedict, a founder of Christian monasticism. He stayed in the Benedictine monastery there for a month, studying the faith of the brothers in a world without television, radio, or computers.
The final third of his journey took Bryan to Berlin for an internship with Topographie des Terrors, an outdoor demonstration of the Gestapo and SS and their Berlin activities. He spoke German almost exclusively, even at home with his host family, and worked on a computer database written in German.
Sorting through photographs of Nazi atrocities, following the trail of Odysseus, and being virtually alone in the Vatican at 7 a.m. his first day in Rome are experiences he’ll never forget, but Bryan is quick to say he hopes this was not "the experience of a lifetime." He intends to have many more such adventures. In fact, immediately after his graduation, he will go to Perugia to study Italian for a month, then return to the Benedictine monastery where he so enjoyed last summer.
"Travel is a great teacher," he says in earnest. "It changes your whole view of the world. And the one thing that it changed so much in me is that I have confidence now. I will forever be attached to this College, through the GWF and every other way. Wabash has changed my life."
"Tolerance is the vision that enables us to see things from another’s point of view. It is the bigness that enables us to let people be happy in their own way instead of our way."
Okay, guys, I’ve got a really great plan for your summer vacation. You can spend six weeks here in Crawfordsville interviewing local business leaders who run the factories in town and the men who run the big farming/agriculture operations in Montgomery County. Then you’ll talk with local law enforcement authorities, people from the schools, hospital, community development programs, job placement offices, and churches about the Mexicans who have moved into Crawfordsville and the rest of the county in record numbers the last few years. Do they all know each other? Where are they coming from and why? If that assignment isn’t enough fun for you, I’ll tell you what will be really interesting: You can ride from Chicago to Chiapas, Mexico, on a bus to get a feel for what that trip feels like and why people would want to attempt the journey when they may not even get over the border alive; never mind what kind of lousy job they might get when they arrive in the States.
When political science professor Andrew Schlewitz made the proposal last year, biology major Melecio Gonzalez ’03 of southern Texas and Wabash junior Ben Tooley, a political science major from tiny Berne, Indiana, knew it was an offer they couldn’t refuse.
"Wabash prides itself on being a liberal arts college," Melecio observes, "but doing this political science internship proved the value to me of how broad a range of skills we really develop. If anything, we need to go away from our book studies more than we do. We need to stretch out and not be afraid to try something new."
He and Ben did stretch, and if they were afraid of trying this new experience, nobody could tell. In Crawfordsville, they interviewed, researched statistics, read, and then spoke at length with a woman they identify only as "Maria," a Mexican who had come to Crawfordsville recently from Chiapas. She told them everything, including the names of her family members in Mexico and where they might be found.
Their own bus ride to Chiapas seemed to take forever, and it seemed even longer when the students tried to imagine how difficult the journey would be if you spoke no English and were afraid to get off the bus when it stopped because it might leave without you or you didn’t know when to get back on. And if you couldn’t read the signs, you would have no way to judge where you were or how much farther you had to go.
"This was my first trip to Mexico and I’d love to go back," says Tooley. "Everyone was so hospitable and it is so pretty."
Melecio echoes the same thought: "I couldn’t imagine why someone would leave that environment only to potentially lose his life to get across the border into the U.S."
They learned the answer soon enough.
The people in "Maria’s" family, along with thousands of others, cannot find work that pays enough to provide even a modest living. The Wabash professor and students interviewed Maria’s mother and saw the pleasant house she lives in now, a house paid for by money Maria sends regularly. They also saw the hovel she lived in when she was rearing all her children. The difference astonished them.
The Mexican image of life in the United States may be distorted, but it is compelling. In one home, they saw photographs of the young owner’s brother-in-law having a pleasant outing at the Indianapolis Zoo. They met people who view the U.S. the way television portrays life in this country: beautiful women in fancy clothes; fine cars; luxurious homes, and, of course, they want a share of that good life. They want that good life for their children. They want the good old American pull-‘em-up-by-the-bootstrap dream to come true for their families.
Ben remembered: "All the grown children said they think of ‘work’ when they think of the U.S.A. They think of our country as a place of opportunity. Sure, they would rather stay home in Mexico where they know people and language and customs, but the United States is where they can improve their lot."
"Everyone we talked to there said the United States is paradise," reported Melecio, whose own parents were born in Mexico. "That was deeply moving; it helped us respect our country and appreciate what we have. So many people in Mexico long for a life like ours."
A stop at the border between Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta, Mexico brought them up close with the work of the immigration officials whose job it is to keep Mexicans from coming across to the United States illegally. The students understood every reason for keeping them out, valid reasons from the economic point of view of the United States. They also wondered privately what must happen to a person whose entire work is telling people they cannot have what they are willing to die for, that there can be no life with material blessings for them or for their children. They knew the immigration officers had to know their restrictions were partially responsible for Mexicans signing on with the "coyotes" who promise, for a huge fee, to smuggle them across the border in safety and then leave them to die without water in a locked truck or boxcar, or who simply take their money and never deliver on their promise.
Later in Phoenix, Ben and Melecio met with members of humanitarian groups that assist the illegals in coming to the United States, even if the help consists only of replenishing buckets of water in marked locations in the desert. These people in their turn, the students discovered, suffer bouts of conscience opposite those of the immigration workers. In offering forth sustenance, they don’t want to call attention to the places the illegals will be, so that when they go for water they will automatically be arrested and returned. They do not enjoy disobeying the law of their country any more than some of the immigration officials enjoy enforcing it.
These are disturbing moral questions to consider on a long bus ride back to Wabash.
"The understanding I gained on this project was incredible," Melecio Gonzalez says, then adds with a smile: "I’m a little jealous that the Dill program just came into being, but I’m proud to have been one of the first to participate. This has been of value to who I am and what I will become."
It takes a truly good man to have confidence in the goodness of others.
"Neglect and exploitation of the underprivileged by the powerful have agitated me ever since I can remember."
Those words are the first sentence of Aurpon Bhattacharya’s application for one of the Dill Internships last year, when he was a junior at Wabash, but Aurpon doesn’t look as if he would recognize those awful situations if he saw them five feet away. Tall and straight in an ensemble of bright white trousers and a long frock; he is an elegant figure striding across the Mall. His intelligence is reflected in his activities: resident advisor at Morris Hall; president of the Cricket Club; treasurer of the International Students Association; and a member of the editorial board of Callimachus, the student literary magazine.
Aurpon came to the Wabash campus from Calcutta, India, a city of 13 million, and, ironically, it was a Dill Internship that took him home to learn to solve the problems that had disturbed him since childhood. Aurpon worked as an unpaid intern for IBRAD, the Indian Institute of Biosocial Research and Development, a non-profit organization supported in part by the World Bank, Ford Foundation, and the Swedish International Development Agency that "aims at transforming the bureaucratic system to make it more responsive to the needs of development."
He worked in the three main areas of IBRAD’s mission: creation of facilities for primary health care services; deforestation; and irrigation of cropland. The work had great meaning for a young man who had been interested in public service since early childhood. He means to make empowering the people of the country his life’s work and this internship gave him the necessary groundwork.
He began the assignment thinking every rural leader was selfish and ignorant, but changed his mind immediately when he realized they must fight their constituents belief that: "We are ignorant; therefore, we don’t have anything. We don’t have anything because we are ignorant." In despair many of the working poor men drink to excess and take out their frustration by beating their wives. The women have had no authority inside or outside the home, but that has begun to change. With the support of IBRAD, women throughout rural India have formed self-help groups and in several towns have started bank accounts that their husbands cannot touch. All the money they save and earn is spent to educate their children as the start of breaking the horrible cycle of poverty.
Aurpon found women making another important rural change: Planting trees to improve the soil and atmosphere and provide wood, they are retaliating against the forest poachers who thrive in the country.
Aurpon stayed in the villages where he worked. It was hands-on all the time, especially in the final project category: river life irrigation. Previously, local officials were too lax to make sure the job was done correctly; consequently irrigation didn’t make a difference for the jute, wheat, and rice crops. With the help of Aurpon and IBRAD, the pumps have now been given over to the villagers who operate them with efficiency and pride.
All these experiences confirmed theories Aurpon had held for years. None of the obstacles dissuaded him from his original goal of helping India’s rural poor break the chains that bind them. The success of the programs only strengthened his resolve.
When asked about Mike Dill, who made this learning experience possible, his response might as well describe himself. "Mr. Dill doesn’t do this to make a good name for himself," he observed. "He is interested in us and our learning."
Mr. Dill certainly is. "I want the young men to graduate from Wabash with confidence in their ability to make sound judgments. The more experience they have, the more confidence they have. The enthusiasm of students for this internship program surpasses anything I ever dreamed of. I hope when their turn comes the young men who are traveling and learning now will extend the experience to students on the Wabash campus then. The perpetual impact of these internships is beyond our imagination."