by Chris Killian
Kalamazoo College graduate (1980) Mark White is sitting in a high-backed chair, cushions the color of deep lime, in the front room of a faculty lounge at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, one of the few U.S. colleges older than his alma mater. Behind him are several windows that look out onto "The Lawn," one of UVa's signature areas (not unlike our Quad), and a massive door that requires - believe it or not - a skeleton key.
The air is thick with the past. In front of White, old paintings of historical figures line the walls; a massive, soot-stained fireplace seems to beg to glow again; and old furniture - the kind you're sure must be leaking springs and would never dare use for fear of ruining a bit of history - bespeaks a more innocent time.
Of all the artifacts in this room - each of which might hold a secret about the university or its famous founder Thomas Jefferson - White's attention is seized by the one piece that seems to shout: "Kalamazoo College!"
It's an old globe, a bit dusty, sitting on a table. Perhaps the associate professor of commerce (at the university's McIntire School of Commerce) had better take it. White might need it because he's set to lead a voyage of grand proportions, one requiring a really big boat. Sounds like old times at "K."
This spring UVa hosts the Semester At Sea program, celebrating its 100th voyage, with White at the helm as its academic dean. Some 700 students from more than 200 colleges and universities around the country will participate in the 15-week adventure, which set sail January 17 and will return in early May. The journey launched from Mexico and will travel 20,000 nautical miles around the world, visiting 10 countries along the way.
No problem; White's been working on his sea legs since his matriculation to "K."
"I didn't want to go out of state for school, and if you wanted to study abroad, 'K' was the place to go," said the Rochester (Mich.) native. "I guess you could say that 'K' opened-up the world for me."
His love affair with traveling began with his study abroad experience in Germany, where he lived with a host family. A 90-day Eurail pass enabled him to travel to every country he wanted "except for Portugal," he said. And for the past 10 years, White has been passing that torch of travel.
He's led student trips to South America, Asia, Africa, Australia and Europe.
"It's life changing," White said of his students' study abroad experiences. "But besides just that, (the students) go into the world to change the world for the better. They acquire a unique set of skills that they can apply to so many issues."
Several of his former students have taken their desire to improve the world into their work after graduation. One took a position at the World Bank and helped finance start-up businesses in impoverished nations. Another student is consulting with www.kiva.org, an Internet-based organization that lets people invest their money with small start-ups around the world in the form of no interest loans.
"To travel is to realize just how much we have here," White said. "To those who are given much, much is expected. We want the students on this
"You could say that 'K' opened up the world for me."voyage to see what the rest of the world looks like and learn along the way by developing and implementing solutions to the problems they see."
Even though finance is a primary part of his academic life (many of his courses focus on corporate and international finance), White also loves the environment (he has a master's degree in ecology from Michigan State University to complement his "K" biology major) and courses examine business's relationship with the natural environment. He believes that business and the natural world must be symbiotic, and travel helps students see how people in other countries approach environmental and economic sustainability. He spent a year in Augsburg, Germany as a Fulbright Research Professor studying business' responses to environmental challenges.
His current research focuses on the valuation of ecological capital, a topic melding his expertise in financial modeling with his interests in environmental conservation. He's taught courses in the past with titles like "The Business of Saving Nature" and "Investing in a Sustainable Future."
Getting nations around the world to learn a lesson he was taught while a student at "K" would serve them well, White said, especially as the need for a move toward sustainability in all facets of life becomes more and more pronounced.
"Kalamazoo College is a small school," he said. "We all had to work together, think together, and live together in order to succeed. I think there is a lesson there, too."
You can check out White's travel blog here.