Brian Gibney's hands lead to a life of the mind
For many, college is an exercise of the mind. Kenyon junior Brian P. Gibney, however, prefers to learn through his hands. And he obviously has the touch.
An honors major in molecular biology, the Chatham, New Jersey, native was named a Kenyon Summer Science Scholar for 1997. As such, he spent much of the summer working with David J. Marcey, associate professor of biology and codirector of the molecular-biology program, who Gibney refers to as "an incredibly brilliant man." Gibney was studying the role of hydrogen peroxide in promoting mitosis, or cell division. Imagine someone cutting his hand, says the young scholar. "We know that hydrogen peroxide helps to heal the skin, but in the right concentration it actually stimulates cell growth. We're trying to figure out the chemical pathway it uses to do that." Although he didn't finish the project, Gibney says he's not discouraged. "I still have two more years," he notes.
Then comes the advanced work that Gibney believes is his calling: to tap the unknown energy of plants. "When I was fourteen or fifteen, I had this idea of using plants as an alternative source of power," says Gibney. "It would be a totally free source of power, using only plants, sunlight, and water--a closed, nonpolluting system. It's the Holy Grail of science," he raves. "Just to work on it would be incredible. So I'm planning to go to graduate school and get a doctorate."
Meanwhile, along with his laboratory research, Gibney the Eagle Scout also spends time outdoors, investigating the local flora. As coordinator of camping trips for new students, he introduces others to the biological diversity around them.
Hiking and camping are also ways of staying physically active. "I'm not a tremendous athlete," says the four-year high-school track runner, "but I need to be active, to blow off steam, so physical fitness has been an interest of mine." So much so that Gibney recently enrolled in the American Council on Exercise. After a summer-long extracurricular program of classes in Columbus, Ohio, an ambitious workout routine, disciplined study, and a three-and-one-half-hour test that covered a range of topics including first-aid, fitness testing, kinesiology, legal issues, and physiology, he recently became a certified personal trainer. Now, in his free time, Gibney hires out his services as an on-campus personal trainer.
Having a good physique, however, is not the end-all. Complete "wellness" should be the goal for anyone interested in leaing a long and healthy life, he says. "Wellness means having respect for one's self and one's peers, respecting peoples' wishes; it means eating right and being physically active; it means not drinking, smoking, or taking drugs," explains Gibney. Kenyon's Wellness Program was established two years ago, making him among its first members and strongest advocates. He now serves as student coordinator of the program. Students committed to the concept live in designated wellness areas in the College's Mather and McBride residence halls and adopt a healthy lifestyle. "Wellness is a view of life," says Gibney, "rather than a contract on not smoking, drinking, or taking drugs."
Complete wellness also includes development of the self, participating in projects that enable a person to grow as an individual, anything from meditation to jewelry-making. Gibney prefers jewelry-making. He taught it as part of a high-school art class and even considered a double major at Kenyon--art and molecular biology--before opting for the latter. That the College's art program did not feature precious metals or jewelry-making was no deterrent. To the contrary: Gibney was invited to teach a jewelry-making class at Kenyon's Craft Center. Of course, he adopts a very hands-on approach. "I'll teach whatever the students want to learn," Gibney says, "and in the way each of them wants to be taught." Last semester, ninety students signed up for his class. This semester, he's teaching two classes, each limited to ten people.
Gibney's passion for precious metals sparked his interest in recycling them--and in recycling plastics, paper, and anything else that can be turned into profit. With that, he found yet another opportunity at the College. Kenyon and the village of Gambier recently built a recycling center, where Gibney is coordinating student workers and finding buyers for the recycled materials. "I checked stock prices and called dozens of people within an hour's radius to find the best deal; now I'm trying to figure out where the project should be going in the next five to ten years," he says. "It's a lot bigger than anybody planned. There's so much potential. There may be enough profit to justify a full- or part-time person dedicated to running the center, which would further increase profits and offer spin-off opportunities."
For Gibney, Kenyon is one big hands-on opportunity. But it started with just a glance. "I had a horrible experience in high school," he recalls. "I was in school with people I had known since kindergarten, but I didn't feel comfortable there." After graduation, and after visiting several colleges where he had been accepted, Gibney decided to see the one campus he hadn't yet visited. "The day I came to Kenyon, someone--I don't even know who it was--looked me straight in the eye, smiled, and nodded to me. That was a new concept!" It was like a visual handshake, he says, extremely sincere. "I immediately felt part of the community."
Looking ahead several years, long after he has graduated and embarked on his career, Gibney's convinced he'll look back at Kenyon fondly. "I know I'll have the feeling that I couldn't have been happier anywhere else."
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