While my parents, Paul and Beverly Reeder, didn’t attend Dickinson, they were the ones who introduced me to the college. They lived and worked in Carlisle for three years while my dad attended Dickinson Law School. We took weekend drives to Carlisle and the campus through the years, and I enjoyed listening to their stories. It inspired me to apply to attend Dickinson.
I came from a conservative, rural community, and I arrived on campus as a student in fall 1968. I was enthralled with the incredible, rich course offerings that introduced me to new worlds and ideas. My high school education provided a basic foundation, but it lacked any connection to the larger world: I took all the usual classes: English, history, math, etc. But when I came to Dickinson, the course options were like a smorgasbord to me, opening my eyes to so much more and encouraging me to think and question what I was learning.
Dickinson inspired in me a passion for social justice, civic engagement and lifelong learning, and it became part of how I raised my four children. Two of them, Michael Owen Snyder ’03 and Abigail Lynn Snyder ’08, chose to apply to Dickinson as well. However, as a single parent and community-college professor in rural Appalachia, my income was limited. Fortunately, thanks to extensive financial aid offered by the college, both [Michael and Abigail] were recipients of a rich education that's been foundational to their personal development and professional lives committed to community empowerment and social justice. After Dickinson, Michael went on to receive a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, which supported his master’s degree in environmental sustainability at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Abby served in the Peace Corps (Togo, Africa) for two years before entering Yale University for a master’s degree in environmental management.
Michael is indebted to the ongoing mentorship and friendship of Professor of Earth Sciences Marcus Key, which continues to this day, and Abby credits Jenn Halpin for her career as a climate mitigation consultant. She introduced her to sustainable agriculture at the College Farm and inspired Abby’s interest in international service, resulting in her acceptance into the Peace Corps and her selection as a Fulbright Fellow in Indonesia.
Abby and Michael both studied abroad through Dickinson, which launched their passion for international travel and resulted in the strong infusion of a global perspective to their service-oriented careers: Michael as an award-winning documentary filmmaker and photojournalist and Abby in her cutting-edge worldwide consulting work on decarbonizing agricultural supply chains.
How has Dickinson's liberal-arts education helped you?
The Dickinson experience has been transformative for three generations of my family. As a result of our time on campus, we are committed to supporting an education that can be usefully applied toward resolving the most pressing challenges of our times and alleviating the suffering of those in society who are the most vulnerable. We also believe that meaningful education (and a meaningful life) is one grounded in relationships. From the years at Dickinson have come our closest friends and mentors.
As a history and sociology major, my plan was to be a social worker. Thanks to studies in history, I have a better understanding of how the past impacts where we are today, which has contributed to my ability as a social worker to be an agent of change, not merely someone who distributes Band-Aids.
I’m a community development social worker. My best asset is to be an effective problem-solver. I need to know what is happening in my community so I can solve a problem or help to create something new. The problem-solving skills I learned at Dickinson helped me to do this in projects large and small in my life and in my area of the Appalachian Mountains.
In addition to the work I do in my community, I’ve served internationally on humanitarian teams to help communities deal with trauma from natural disasters and war. My education at Dickinson has definitely contributed to my ability to consider the bigger picture and maintain a vision of hope and possibilities, even in times of challenge. To this day, I’m not intimidated by large problems.
My fondest memories from my time on campus are from time spent with the Mermaid Players and serving as a resident advisor. These were relationship-building experiences for me that took place outside of the classroom. Three of the four most special relationships I have in my life today grew out of Dickinson: Bruce Fontanella ’71, my life partner for more than 15 years; David Bolin,’71 my longtime friend and colleague at Interact in Philadelphia, and Lynn Erickson Cadmus '72, my roommate and friend to this day.
What inspired your gift to Dickinson?
The Dickinson College mission of a "useful education ... engaged lives of citizenship and leadership in the service of society" became reality in the lives of my family members. I decided I wanted to pass this gift on to others.
I’m also aware that democracy is day-to-day work. Democracy is threatened, and to me, a useful education of service and leadership (where one is thoughtful and guided by the heart) is needed to protect our democracy. I equate this commitment to democracy with patriotism. It’s so important to have a love and understanding of history. I’m counting on Dickinson to turn out well-educated and inclusive graduates who serve others.
Why is it important to you to give back to the college?
When I raised my family, we made it a practice to serve together. We would serve meals, volunteer and march for justice—even though we didn’t have a lot of money. Creating this legacy of service with my children was very important to me.
Dickinson was flexible with me, and we figured out a way to come up with a plan for endowed scholarships. It came together easily, and it reflects my family’s values. I’m aware life is precious, and education is important, so I wanted to have an impact that continues.
I always have a plan, and that includes my end-of-life plans. I think I always knew I would be giving to Dickinson. I’m in great health, but at my 50th reunion, the connections with old friends and the stories we shared brought my good fortune/values/legacy home to me in a very profound way. My classmate, Lou Teti '72, spoke about giving through your IRA, and required minimum distributions and the idea of legacy. It got me thinking not just about sharing a legacy, but also about the idea of involving my family and Dickinson College in my plans.
What advice would you give to today's students?
I would share the same advice I gave my kids years ago on their way to college: Stay open to all the possibilities. Don’t focus too narrowly on a specific course or career. Who knows what gifts will come from this college experience? You don’t need to know what this class or club or time in your life is all about. Who knows what you could learn from that faculty member or this classmate! Be a Mermaid Player. Try something new.
You may come in with a plan, and that’s OK. Remind yourself to be open to changes along the road. I’ve been blessed to have two jobs in my career, and I enjoyed them both. You want a career you love and a life that you are passionate about. My work, and my enjoyment, for the past 50 years remain directly connected to my many experiences at Dickinson.
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Published June 5, 2023