by Kandace Kohr
Upstate New Yorker Caroline Smiegal ’18 was highly involved in and around campus as a student. She was a member of Delta Nu, a Liberty Cap (tour guide), student interviewer, intern at the Women’s & Gender Resource Center and studied abroad twice—once in Dickinson’s program in Denmark, and once in Dickinson's program in Spain. Though she felt well-prepared for a career, thanks to the interdisciplinary education and experience she had at Dickinson, she knew her path would be different than most—and it was, by about 4,100 miles.
Having heard about Bike & Build from friends who participated in the program before, Smiegal was inspired by the project’s mission to raise money and awareness for affordable housing through service-oriented cycling trips. And after learning about the rewarding experience of her two friends, she was sold. “It was kind of terrifying from the moment I applied and was accepted,” she says. "But I was like, ‘Okay, this is probably going to be the best thing that I’ve ever done.’ ”
Bike & Build sponsors a number of service trips each year, and Smiegal was part of a 27-bicyclist team traveling the northern half of the country from coast to coast, beginning by dipping their back tires in the Atlantic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and ending by dipping their front tire in the Pacific in Bellingham, Washington.
After deciding to embark on the trip, Smiegal had just enough time to complete the tasks necessary to join the team: complete 500 hours of biking and volunteer 10 hours with an affordable housing curriculum. She completed the prerequisites in the nick of time with the help of her parents, who also are dedicated cyclists.
During the trip, the team would bike anywhere between 70 and 100 miles, stopping at 13 individual sites along the way to assist Habitat for Humanity, Rebuilding Together and other local affordable housing nonprofits.
“We did everything from moving drywall, to setting it up, scraping houses, painting houses, putting in ramps,” says Smiegal. “The whole trip was simply exhilarating. ... When we biked the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, we woke up at 3:30 in the morning, stars above us, freezing cold and standing around a pot of boiling oatmeal trying to get our calories in before we started.”
Even though it’s hard to top a trip like that, Smiegal hopes to stay involved with Bike & Build and perhaps lead her own group one day. And she’s keeping an eye on affordable housing issues in the United States. “I really recognized how widespread the issue is and that it’s our responsibility to come up with solutions to this problem,” she says.
For now, she’s returned to her roots as an admissions counselor at Dickinson, where she puts her skills and experiences to use helping prospective students understand what Dickinson can offer them. “It felt natural to come back to Dickinson and really serve as an advocate for prospective students during this daunting and stressful time in their lives," she says. "I think because I benefited so much from my Dickinson education, I really want to give back to other students.”
Published October 5, 2018