Michael Haines' relationship with Franklin & Marshall College started with a simple invitation.
A member of the College's football coaching staff thought the Cinnaminson, N.J., native and promising football recruit would be a good fit at F&M, so he urged Haines to schedule a visit.
"I came up and fell in love with the campus," Haines said. "It offered me the opportunity to do many of the things that I like: play football, do community service, and study various disciplines."
After four years of serving as a mentor to his classmates and local high school students, providing tremendous leadership in the classroom and on the football field, and pursuing with dynamic intellect and insatiable curiosity a major in American studies, Haines can say he got the most out of his F&M experience.
At the College's Commencement ceremony May 10, his contributions as a scholar, leader and athlete earned Haines the 2014 Williamson Medal, the College's most prestigious award for student achievement.
"It's humbling, and I think it's a great honor," Haines said, who spoke at Commencement. "When I was told that I was the recipient, I thought about the other exceptional students here on campus and wondered, 'Why didn't she get it? Why didn't he get it?'"
Haines, who will attend medical school this fall, arrived at F&M thinking he would major in biochemistry or organic chemistry. But after teaching him for a semester, Alison Kibler, associate professor of American Studies and Women's and Gender Studies, suggested he consider American studies.
"His level of excellence in different disciplines of the College is unusual," said Kibler, chair of American Studies and Women's and Gender Studies. "He's always connecting his academic work to the world outside the classroom. He's just consistently, rigorously thoughtful about connecting with people."
Haines was hooked after taking Kibler's first-year seminar, "Rights and Representation," and Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies David Kieran's "Introduction to American Studies" course.
"Those classes just opened my eyes to the structural and cultural inequalities in our society," Haines said. "It kind of gave me a grounding, a solid reason to go into medicine."
Haines, his professors say, is keenly analytical. He can examine an issue or idea, consider various causes and effects, and then seek to gain a greater understanding of what is occurring and how to improve it.
"Mike is really interested in issues of social justice and inequality in America," said Kieran, Haines' academic adviser. "He's found interesting ways in which to connect the broad study of American culture to things he's interested in exploring in the medical world, such as community medicine and family practice."
Haines, a Rouse Scholar and a Marshall Fellow, said he chose F&M because the rigorous curriculum offered him the opportunity to explore his interests -- and he was known for going to great lengths to pursue those interests.
"He talked his way into my 'Introduction to Public Health' class last semester," said Kirk Miller, the B. F. Fackenthal Jr. professor of Biology and co-chair of the public health program. The course is typically reserved for underclassmen, Miller said, but he made an exception for Haines.
"He was a really good example to the younger students in the class," Miller said. "He helped me show the younger students how public health has an impact in our lives and community. He's going to be a really good doctor. He's a great guy."
Other faculty members describe Haines as genuine and affable, the kind of student who shows up for class early or stays late to ask questions or discuss an article he had just read outside of the assigned reading.
"He's one of the most thoughtful students I've taught," said Associate Professor of Chemistry Scott Van Arman. "He really thinks about the material."
While much of Haines' coursework was in the humanities, he made his mark in the sciences, too, winning the 2014 Isaac E. Roberts Prize in Biology, which he shared with another student.
"Mike tended to ask thoughtful questions that were especially relevant to the topics of the course," said Associate Professor of Biology Clara Moore. "He didn't hesitate, he was a leader in class discussions."
As a preceptor in Professor of History and American Studies Louise Stevenson's "U.S. Empire" course, Haines bonded with the students exceptionally well, Stevenson said.
"They all loved him," she said. "They really liked going to him for help, and he was so gentle with them."
His mentorship extended beyond the walls of F&M.
One Saturday night, Kieran was out with his wife when the two ran into Haines, who was spending the evening with a McCaskey High School mentee from Project LAUNCH, a mentoring program formerly run by F&M's Ware Institute for Civic Engagement. On a night when most college students were unwinding after a long week of coursework, lab work and writing papers, Haines was giving back to the local community.
"He has this clear passion for doing good," Kieran said.
When the program ended, Haines continued his relationship with the students he was mentoring. "He helped a group of his peers keep that program going even though it was no longer funded," Moore said.
On the football field, Haines embraced a leadership role, Head Coach John Troxell said. He held his teammates accountable, and helped to establish a culture of unity.
"In every sense of the word, he's a tremendous leader," Troxell said. "He's one of those students who gets the most out of his experience. He really is a model of what you want in a student-athlete."
"He's not afraid to work behind the scenes to make the team better, to get everyone to work harder," the coach said. "One of the things that was really touching was his willingness to take guys under his wing -- he's more about helping others."
In September, Haines begins his postgraduate career at Jefferson Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University. His interest in becoming a doctor emerged during frequent visits to the hospital, where his uncle was receiving cancer treatments.
"The trust my uncle placed in his oncologist was so profound and significant," Haines said. "To have the opportunity to help and comfort people, that's huge."