Volunteer archaeologist shares her passion through scholarships

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Michael Dion ’72, M.B.A. ’81 says her love for archaeology started when she took Introduction to Anthropology at Wayne State University as an elective. “I was fascinated by it,” she recalled.

But Dion was a business major, so that fascination faded into the background. She built an enjoyable career in banking, working in various technology positions. Dion also traveled extensively and eventually discovered the joy of combining volunteering with travel. To date, she has volunteered in 35 countries, doing archaeology work in 20 of them.

Dion’s first volunteer experience was a service trip sponsored by the Smithsonian in 1990. They were excavating a slave cabin from an Irish sugar plantation on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. The dig renewed Dion’s fascination with archaeology. “I had a fabulous time and learned that I really enjoyed being in the dirt with a trowel in my hand,” she said. “I’m so glad I decided to join that team. It changed my life.”

After her experience on Montserrat, Dion began volunteering on archaeology expeditions around the world through the Earthwatch Institute. During one of those trips 22 years ago, she met a professor from the University of Florida who studies pre-Columbian cultures in the Caribbean. He invited her to volunteer on his projects, and they’ve been working together ever since.

While these adventures have been incredibly enriching, Dion noticed that the trips were a financial burden for the students she worked alongside. “To go out in the field, it’s so expensive anymore,” she said. And she could relate to the students struggling to pay for their education.

Dion’s parents believed strongly in education, but as one of seven children, she needed to pay her own way through school. It took eight years to finish her bachelor’s degree and four years to earn her M.B.A. from Wayne State. “There was a period when I was working full time on the midnight shift and a part-time job in the morning, grabbing a few hours of sleep and then taking evening classes,” Dion recalled. “It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.”

When Dion began making her estate plans, she naturally thought of helping students. Beyond providing for her large extended family, Dion also will create the Michael Marie Dion Endowed Support Fund in Anthropology at Wayne State. The fund will support graduate student projects and research in archaeology.

The endowed fund will last forever and impact many generations. But as Dion thought about her plans, she realized, “I’m never going to see how that worked and what it meant to the students.” So she decided to make an additional gift now to establish the Michael Marie Dion Annual Scholarship in Anthropology. The scholarship is available to juniors, seniors and graduate students with financial need.

Dion hopes her scholarship and support fund will relieve financial burdens on students while helping them better understand history. She has learned through her travels and archaeological projects that our world’s cultures are more alike than they are different. “If more people realized that, the world might be a better place,” she said.

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