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Student Focus: Chance Ruder ’15 Enjoys Life on the Lake

by John Syme

Chance RuderWhat do biology, theatre and the largest man-made lake in North Carolina have in common?

Chance Ruder '15, for one thing. He is double majoring in the subjects while living on a 33-foot masthead sloop on Lake Norman.

Ruder noted that evidence of his academic precociousness emerged early. At age four, he was enchanted by and began to work closely with a local raptor center near the family's home in San Antonio, Texas. On grade-school soccer fields, he would get distracted by the bugs in the clover. At age eight, he got involved as a mentor student and presenter at Sea World San Antonio.

Somewhere along the line, one evening during homework time, young Ruder's passion for nature led him to proclaim theatrically to his mom, "I'm a chance for wildlife!" In that moment, young Brooks Ruder became Chance, a stage name for life.

When Ruder's mom noticed the teenaged Chance filching fat novels from the family library to combat his boredom at school, she sat him down in front of a computer and told him to find a school that would challenge him. So he did. Soon, his Keystone School science project on repelling sharks and stingrays with magnetic stimulation placed fourth in category at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

Not long after, he came across an ad for SeaTrek BVI, a marine eco-tourism and education company offering summer camp activities in the Caribbean.

"Living on a boat and using scuba as a way of discovery just blew my 15-year-old-mind. It was such a basic way to live. I had four pair of boxers, three t-shirts, five pair of swim trunks, and I fell in love with the ocean," Ruder said.

Last summer was Ruder's seventh with SeaTrek, now as a captain of a 43-foot catamaran: "I'm pretty certain that the rest of my life is going to be spent on or near the water!" Partially through his work at SeaTrek, Ruder recently received his Merchant Mariner Credential from the U.S. Coast Guard, allowing him to work as a captain in U.S. waters.

Living the Simple Life

A late afternoon breeze brought an early fall chill into the cabin of Neptune, where Ruder lives at a marina across the road from the college's 100-acre Lake Campus property, less than five miles from campus on Lake Norman.

"She's a blue-water cruiser, holly and teak floors, keel laid in Italy in 1983," he said, reaching down to switch on a small ceramic heater. "When I bought her in Wilmington (N.C.), she was totally equipped for a sea voyage and stocked with spare parts."

He had acquired the craft during a year away from his Davidson career, and Neptune figured prominently into his plans to return to campus and academic life. He requested and eventually received a housing variance from the dean of students office to live aboard Neptune.

Living the simple life has helped him appreciate the simple things, he said, and has helped him deal with Attention Deficit Disorder.

"I love being around people, but starting and ending the day by walking down the dock over the water grounds me," he said.

Fall semester 2013, Ruder was the production stage manager for Twelfth Night, and Cunningham Theatre Center was his home away from home.

Looking ahead, he wants to pursue a career where he can help shape the public's view of wildlife and conservation issues. For now, he's enjoying his unique Davidson experience, while balancing his studies and social life.

"Living aboard has helped me with focus, and with knowing when to start and stop the social end of college life," he said, "and it's taught me the value of sleep."

But he's careful to make allowances for that most theatrical of events in the life cycle of the American undergraduate-the extemporaneous, late-night bull session with friends: "When I sense one coming on, I go with it!"