Building His Own Path
Sometimes the best classroom is not a classroom. For Jay Drake, one of his favorite classes takes place in the seat of a Bobcat excavator deep in the woods of MSA’s 1,600-acre campus. He is currently completing a Land Management independent study, in which he is designing and building a 1.5 mile multipurpose trail from central campus to the school’s 12-acre lake. Operating an excavator, he works daily to sculpt a steep slope into a gently rolling trail. In the total absence of white boards, desks, books, and other items typically associated with schools, Jay has found a learning environment in which his next lesson is always just around the bend.
Jay’s love of big machines goes all the way back to his childhood.
“Ever since I can remember,” Jay comments, “I have always loved heavy equipment—from dump trucks to excavators to bulldozers. I love them all. When I was growing up, my dad owned a flooring company, and he had a couple of large forklifts, which I loved to drive around with the operators. There are countless pictures of me as a little kid sitting in the operator’s lap with a smile as big as my face. Since then, not much has changed—I still love heavy equipment.”
Since its founding in 1878, MSA’s teachers have bridged academic understanding with practical hands-on experience so that students gain know-how as well as knowledge. Jay’s mentor and teacher, Andy Guptill, recognized an opportunity to support both Jay’s passion and promote MSA’s educational mission.
Guptill observes, “Jay is a remarkable young man, who has talent for both trail design and heavy machine operation. He has the vision to design and the skills to build world-class trails. This independent study provides him with an opportunity to engage both his mind and his hands in a project that will serve the school for decades to come.”
The trail that Jay is building will allow students and faculty to gain access to the lake more easily. In addition, the gentle slope and width of the trail will make it accessible to less-experienced hikers and even babies in strollers.
While Jay has developed many of his skills in building trails in MSA’s Land Management course, he has also benefited from his summer work with the esteemed local excavating company, Contour Construction.
“Last summer I worked for Contour Construction,” Jay points out. “I got to spend the summer around the machines that I love, which opened my eyes to the world of heavy equipment. I learned so much about what it is like to work around and in them. I finished up the summer with more knowledge about heavy construction equipment, which will help me down the road if I continue into a career in this industry, as well as in my everyday life.”
The lessons that Jay learned extend far beyond the mechanics of machine operation. One day, while driving a $400,000 hauling truck, Jay inadvertently ran over large metal survey stakes that showed exactly the height to which the dirt needed to reach (known as the final grade). His boss was infuriated because Jay’s mistake meant that the area would need to be surveyed again.
“I learned that in any line of work you have to pay very close attention to the details, and listen carefully to those who know more than you. This is the kind of lesson you can only learn on the job. And, since then, I’ve applied this lesson to other aspects of my life. Whether in the classroom or when riding my bike, I’ve learned to pay special attention to the instructions of those who know more than I do.”
Between his summer job and his independent study, Jay has built his own educational path—one that puts him on the perfect grade to achieve his goals in life.
Leaning up against his excavator in the upper meadow, Jay meditated on what he has learned from his experiences: “I’ve gained a sense of confidence and responsibility and an appreciation for a hard day’s work. As I go forward, I know now that I am able to meet almost any challenge, as long as I listen, pay attention, and apply for my full effort.” Who said that a Bobcat excavator can’t become a classroom?