ROTC student in step with walking … and reading
By Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau
Among all the students scootering and skateboarding across the Grand Canyon University campus, Dylan Nigh stands out even though he’s only walking — because he’s also reading.
It is one of a plethora of activities Nigh pairs with reading: He reads while waiting for class to begin, he reads while eating at Chick-fil-A or Fresh Fusion on campus or making Mexican food in his residence hall room, and he reads before he falls asleep.
As he recently strode from his residence hall to his afternoon class, he was reading Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman’’ the sequel to the classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
People notice his reading-while-walking habit and marvel at his balance and situational awareness – he has never fallen, much less stumbled.
“I’ve gotten pretty good at it over time,’’ he said with the pride of a young man who rises before dawn to complete physical training with the United States Army Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC).
Over 100 books
Nigh began reading while walking in junior high as part of a constant reading mode throughout his day. Usually he does not count the number of books he reads, but when he was 15, he set a goal to read 100 books in one year and he exceeded it with 104. In January of that year he read a month-high 29 books.
“I am pretty into it,’’ he said. “There was a point in high school where I stopped doing it so much. I focused more on academics, sports, things like that, but I got back into it during college and I am back to reading two or three (books) a day.’’
Those books are usually “short,” as in less than 180 pages. Longer books — 240 pages or longer – take approximately four days.
“I have subscriptions to Time, Wired, Esquire and National Geographic, which I use to fill in the gaps between shorter books,” said Nigh who maintains his reading regimen along with attending classes, completing homework, drilling with the ROTC, eating, sleeping and socializing.
If the subject matter is particularly complex, Nigh slows down and devotes even more time to a solitary book, such as the genetics book by Matt Ridley, “Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters.’’
“That was dense in subject matter,” Nigh said. “Every fifth word, I was looking up a new word, so that took me a week and a half.”
The senior from Lakeside, Calif., a suburb east of San Diego, is a model of efficient time management.
“That’s the way the Army does it,’’ he said. “I wasn’t that way in high school, but I joined the ROTC here and it totally turned me around on that.’’
Lt. Col. James Sink, the professor teaching Nigh’s Military Science class, notes huge gains in time-management skills between his freshman cadets and senior cadets like Nigh, who rarely uses social media because he says it wastes time. “It is really easy to get lost in social media for a half hour or more,” Sink said.
Nigh began reading the classic literary canon in junior high, including “The Iliad’’ and “The Odyssey’’ by Homer, as well as a Winston Churchill biography that exceeded 1,000 pages, and Tzu Sun’s “The Art of War.”
“They were good books, but at the end of the day I realized, you’ve got to read what you want to read,’’ he said. “You’ve got to read to expand what you know. I just read ‘Committed: A Love Story,’ the sequel to ‘Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia,’ by Elizabeth Gilbert. I loved that one; I’m not really a chick-lit type of person normally, but it was really good.’’
In the past, Nigh borrowed books from the library — the libraries in Lakeside and nearby El Cajon were special places for him in his pre-teen and teenage years. Since his arrival at GCU, he buys most of his books, and when he finishes them he often gives them away (about 50 so far, he said) in the hopes that another reader will gain knowledge, insight or enjoyment.
Like many traditional readers. Nigh prefers actual books.
“I have always read paperbacks, but I did get a chance to try out my friend’s Kindle paperwhite while on a military mission in Brazil,’’ he said. “I loved the accessibility of the e-books, but I feel like I can remember so much more from the print books I read.’’
Most avid reader ever
When Daniel Conwell and Nigh met three years ago as GCU freshmen, Conwell was shocked by Nigh’s reading habits.
“Never in my life have I ever seen anyone read as much as Dylan,’’ Conwell said. “Everyone knows he is always carrying a book. If he starts a book on Mayan civilization, I will say, ‘Oh, what an interesting book to read.’ By that time the next week, he will be halfway through a completely different book. I have never seen this guy go more than a couple hours without reading.”
Conwell, who shares a residence hall suite with Nigh, appreciates the perspective his friend brings to every discussion.
“I can talk to him about anything because I know that he’s going to have an educated viewpoint,’’ said Conwell, a pre-med major from Phoenix. “He doesn’t just read novels, he reads history pieces and nonfiction. He is well-researched on every single topic I can think of.’’
In the classroom, Sink sees the impact of Nigh’s vast, reading-fueled knowledge.
“Dylan clearly has a more broad perspective than most of his peers, due in large part to his voracious appetite for reading,’’ Sink said. “It shines through most often when I ask cadets to deliver a current event brief, an event that has significant impact for national security and the Army. Dylan always provides a unique perspective, whether through leading questions or just observations or things he has gathered from his reading. He always contributes. He’s good in the classroom, he’s good in the field, he’s a great cadet.’’
The diversity of Nigh’s interests extended to “World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability,” a text by Amy Chua that explores psychology, sociology, economics and global markets.
“That was interesting stuff,’’ said Nigh, a biology major who also demonstrates intellectual diversity by minoring in military science.
His post-graduate plans include gaining a master’s degree in biological research, becoming an EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) tech officer as a newly commissioned second lieutenant … and, of course, reading.
Dylan Nigh’s recommendations:
● “The Mission, the Men, and Me” by Peter Blaber
● “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl
● “Committed: A Love Story” by Elizabeth Gilbert
● “Dragon’s Egg” by Robert L. Forward
● “The Odyssey” by Homer
● “This Side of Paradise” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.