May 16-22 2003
Back Issues
Bond, Morse, Terry win 2003 Sullivan Awards
Advocate for diversity leads by example
Finals factoids
Music major creates programs for local schools

Tragedy spurs Muslim student’s effort to bring understanding

Finding history among the trees
Community through architecture
Moving toward a more inclusive environment
Jobe leads with faith, activism
Exploring vast worlds with Harrison Awards
Harvey blends work, study with passion for civic participation
Designing women sow success
Merging technology, music and art
From one-room school to athletic field
Persistence pays for Ukrainian student
Swimmer sets her eyes on Olympic event
Firefighting ideal job for Jefferson Scholar
Pruett’s ready to deploy, but not to leave her kids
Cancer survivor helps others
Firefighting ideal job for Jefferson Scholar
Ben Skipper, at the ready on his fire truck, hopes to be a fire chief one day.
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff
Ben Skipper, at the ready on his fire truck, hopes to be a fire chief one day.

By Virginia E. Carter

Ben Skipper marches to a different drummer, and he doesn’t try to muffle the beat that drives him.

When he went to the Student Activities Fair for incoming first-year students, Skipper was looking for a different way to get involved. Parked off in the distance was a shiny red fire engine from one of the area stations.

He had found his beat.

The Jefferson Scholar became a volunteer with the Seminole Trail Fire Station in October 1999. Since then, he has logged hundreds of hours during weekends and late nights. Located on Berkmar Drive, the station is a busy one, answering the most calls of all nine fire stations in Albemarle County.

Why the appeal of firefighting?

“One, it’s exciting. Two, I’m learning a lot and it presents a logical puzzle to me — all these little compartments have to fit together to solve a problem. Three, it’s a little bit on the edge but still practical and helpful.”

One of his most memorable experiences was responding to a nighttime car crash where he and his captain had to guide the Pegasus rescue helicopter to a quick and safe landing in a small area with a high-tension electrical line. The adrenaline rush and the problem- solving of that evening are what he likes, said Skipper.

“I’m more of a blue-collar, practical kind of guy. I like working with my hands and being outdoors,” said the environmental sciences major, who spent most of his childhood living on the campus of Episcopal High School in Alexandria, where his father taught. He attended high school at Miller School just west of Charlottesville.

Skipper finds satisfaction in the level of trust and teamwork that firefighting requires. The camaraderie, too, has been similar to belonging to a fraternity.

Skipper has found time for other interests while at U.Va. He was a resident assistant and served as the senior resident for Webb House during his third year.

A Madison House volunteer, he served for two years as program director of Big Siblings/Little Siblings.

And after learning more about his ancestry, which includes a Portuguese grandmother and relatives who came to the United States on whaling ships from Portugal, Skipper began volunteering with the Hispanic/Latino Peer Mentoring Program.

Working on his Spanish is a goal — his parents now live in San Salvador, where his father is headmaster of the American School.

As for his career, he is clear on his other goals. In mid-June, he’s moving to Nashville, where his girlfriend, fellow fourth-year Donna Vleugels, has received a full scholarship to attend medical school at Vanderbilt University. He plans to work there as a firefighter to get more experience.

Later, he hopes to attend law school, work as a fire marshal and eventually become a fire chief.

“What other job could be this great?” said Skipper. “I get to play with tools all the time, drive around in a big truck and help people out.”



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