Professors can be intimidatingly intelligent with just one advanced degree. Imagine a professor with 11 — yes, 11 — doctorates.
This fall, Ben Bolger joins the sociology faculty at the College of William and Mary. His office walls will be heavy with diplomas.
He hails from Michigan where he grew up in Flint and Grand Haven. His experiences in the urban and rural towns encouraged his study of sociology.
At a young age, he witnessed the economic hardship that General Motors wreaked on Flint when the company, a major longtime employer in the region, outsourced many operations overseas.
“I witnessed a lot of urban poverty, which I was very concerned about,” Bolger said.
Living on a tree farm in Grand Haven exposed him to the rural side of poverty.
While these experiences helped shape his worldview, his struggle with dyslexia would continue to define it.
Bolger was diagnosed with the disorder as a child. In the early 1980s, there were few schools in his area that were equipped to give him the help he needed. Eventually, his mother decided that homeschooling would be the best option for him. Bolger thrived in this environment and began taking college classes at age 12.
After realizing he that could handle the academic rigor of these courses, he decided to complete his homeschooling by taking college courses full time. After earning an associate’s degree at a local community college, he transferred to the University of Michigan, where he earned an undergraduate degree in sociology.
Bolger then earned 11 more degrees at various Universities, including the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, Stanford University, Columbia University, Harvard University and Dartmouth College.
However, his accomplishments did not come easily.
“I got through my college studies using books on tape and a leader and a scribe,” Bolger said.
After his studies at Oxford, Bolger decided to apply to law school. He was accepted to and attended Yale Law School.
But once he arrived, he realized that he was very much out of his element.
“I was confronted with hundreds of pages of reading and, when I began Yale Law School at age 19, I hadn’t addressed my deficiencies with reading and spelling,” he said. “So, for me, it wasn’t a good match.”
Despite this experience, Bolger remains optimistic about the opportunities available to dyslexics.
“I don’t think that there’s an inherent obstacle [in having dyslexia],” he said. “One has to be very careful and organized and diligent with their time.”
His dyslexia has not continued to hold him back in the realms of academia and public speaking. Bolger is an accomplished debater, traveling around the world to argue.
Bolger says his diligence and work ethic can make him seem like an intense person. However, he said, his students need not worry.
“I am extremely intense and focused and eager to teach and interact with students, but I am also very laid-back and easy going,” said Bolger, who this semester is teaching two sections of American Society and a course on the sociology of education. “I would describe myself as a workaholic, but I am also a person who enjoys watching ‘24’ and ‘Desperate Housewives.’ So I’m not a complete geek or nerd.”
The professor also has eclectic taste in music.
“My music interests range from Yo-Yo Ma to Madonna to [Luciano] Pavarotti to Bob Dylan, all of whom I have seen in concert,” Bolger said. “I’ve actually seen *NSync in concert also.”
As a Phi Beta Kappa member and an admirer of the College’s prestigious history, Bolger is excited about teaching this fall.
“I love teaching. It’s something that I really, really enjoy and something that I would do regardless of whether I received a paycheck or not,” he said. “So knowing that William and Mary has an interest and an emphasis on undergraduate teaching made it a logical fit for me.”