By the time Mike DiPaolo ’99 had completed orientation during his first week at Wooster, he knew he wanted a career in archaeology. Currently the executive director of the Lewes Historical Society, DiPaolo is confident that his Independent Study experience at Wooster opened professional doors.
For his senior capstone project, DiPaolo took advantage of a unique opportunity. Beginning in the early 1960s, the College co-directed an archaeological dig of Pella, an ancient city in Jordan, and acquired a collection of Middle Bronze, Roman, and Byzantine artifacts excavated from the site. By the early 1990s, the collection and information about it were scattered throughout the campus, in the basement of Mateer Hall, at the College of Wooster Art Museum, in the Libraries’ Special Collections, in various professors’ offices, and even in the president’s office. As part of his Independent Study, titled Wooster in Pella: A History of the Site, the Excavations, and the Collection, DiPaolo gathered together many of the artifacts to create an exhibit.
To do so, he needed the support and encouragement not only of his adviser, but also of many other members of the Wooster community. He found the librarians in Special Collections so helpful that DiPaolo went on for a degree in library science. Facilities staff members helped him move items, including an eight-foot model of the site; staff members in Lowry and at the art museum made display space available. “It was a fascinating and empowering thing to do,” DiPaolo remembers. “It wasn’t just a study—it was the experience of having a whole college say, ‘If you want to create an exhibit, we’ll do everything we can to help you.’”
The experience included responding to requests for information from the local media, writing a proposal for a Copeland grant, curating his own exhibit, and creating a catalog. But most important, says DiPaolo, was the real-world experience of learning to work with people.
In his current position as executive director of the historical society in Lewes, Delaware, DiPaolo works with historians, volunteers, donors, and community organizers. Only two years after graduating from Wooster, DiPaolo landed his current position and found himself heading a statewide celebration of the town’s 375th birthday. As the first town in the nation’s first state, Lewes is a historical trove house. The historical society owns 12 properties and has 1,000 members. Under DiPaolo’s leadership, the number of paid staff members at the society grew from two to five.
“Probably the best thing I took from Wooster is the conviction that people want you to succeed,” said DiPaolo. “I think about this almost every day.”
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