West Nottingham Academy Announces Environmental Sustainability Fellowship

Colora, MD — West Nottingham Academy, through a partnership with Kilby Farm and the Cecil Land Trust and a generous donation from the Kilby family, announces the Mike Cairns Environmental Sustainability Fellowship. The Sustainability Fellowship will support a full-time graduate student to co-lead WNA’s Student Environmental Council (SEC).

The Mike Cairns Environmental Sustainability Fellow will lead the students of the SEC in projects that have an ecological relationship with and impact on WNA’s campus community and the environment beyond. Students will engage in ecological field work and scientific, legal, and humanities research, and will create paths for the WNA community to connect to and care for the earth that sustains all of us.

“The Kilby family is proud and honored to support this fellowship and to name it in honor of Mike Cairns,” stated Bill Kilby, President of the Cecil Land Trust Board, “the connection of Mike to WNA and the Cairns family to sustainability in Cecil County means this fellowship honors education, conservation of our environment, and a committed and caring Cecil County family. We’re excited to be a part of the sustainability initiative at WNA and to help it to grow and have greater and greater positive impact.”

Mike Cairns, pictured above and for whom the fellowship is named, was a WNA graduate in 1980. He passed away in December 2016 from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He is survived by his wife, Sally; his children, Andrew and Anna; his father, Edward; his sister Jane, a Maryland Circuit Court Judge; and his brother, Dave, a hydrogeologist for Weston Solutions in West Chester.

A statement from Dave Cairns, Ed Cairns, and Judge Jane Cairns Murray reads, “We are touched and flattered by the Kilby family’s donation to West Nottingham Academy in memory of Mike, as well as in memory of our mother and in honor of our father. Mike was the valedictorian at his graduation from WNA, and the education that he received there enabled him to be accepted at top engineering schools in the country. He attended and graduated from Case-Western Reserve in Cleveland, and had a very successful career, first with General Motors and then with FCA Chrysler. At the time of his death, he was a quality control engineer at Chrysler assigned to five assembly plants. A quintessential outdoorsman, Mike was an avid hiker and backpacker until his knees prevented such activity. He enjoyed biking, as well as fishing on Lake Michigan with his family and his canine companions. The support for the sustainability program is most appropriate. Our parents worked for sustainable land-use in the area and were truly stewards of their land. We grew up composting, recycling (before it was popular), and with a love for nature. Our family vacations usually involved tents, backpacks, and the occasional forced march on the Appalachian Trail. We are humbled by this honor.”

Mike Cairns’ father, Edward Cairns, graduated from Conrad High School in Wilmington, DE, and the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, where he majored in Chemistry. Mr. Cairns spent eighteen years working for DuPont before retiring at age 50 to do consulting work on color technology for 12 years, spending the last 5 years with Sandoz in Switzerland. Mr. Cairns was an Eagle Scout, who grew up with a love of outdoor activities and nature. He spent years helping to sustain and enhance Cecil County. His first battle was to defeat the Newark Beltway, rallying his neighbors against a roadway that would have had disastrous consequences for the affected neighborhoods. He helped with the transition of White Clay Creek Park into a State Park. His efforts have contributed to preserving the rural character of Cecil County. He has or presently serves on the boards of the Elk Creeks Preservation Society, the Cecil Land Use Alliance, Appleton Regional Community Alliance, Natural Stream Valley Preservation, Head of Christiana Presbyterian Church, and the Cecil County Historical Commission.

Sally Cairns, Mike’s mother, who passed away in 2012, also graduated from the College of Wooster where she met her husband, Ed.  Like her husband, Sally was a woman of many achievements. She was a charter member of the Cecil County League of Women Voters and a member and chairman of the County Planning Commission for 15 years, where she mentored Phyllis Kilby, who also served on the Planning Commission. In 2001, Ms. Cairns was the recipient of the Trailblazer Award, sponsored by the Cecil County Commission for Women and the Cecil Whig. The award recognized her many contributions to Cecil County.

Tom Banks, the head of school at West Nottingham Academy, is excited to be partnering with the Kilby and Cairns families to further sustainability efforts on WNA’s campus and in our community.

Kilby Family
Bill & Phyllis Kilby with their grandchildren

“As a school, we take very seriously our role in educating the next generation of local and global citizens. A large part of that education is teaching them how to care for the earth. We are so pleased that there are people like the Kilbys and the Cairns in our community eager to support programs like these, focusing and sustainability and conservation.”

“I’m thrilled about this fellowship,” affirms Virginia Kennedy, director of sustainability programs and curriculum at WNA. “I’m grateful to the Kilby and Cairns families not only for the financial support, but for their dedication to conservation education for our students. I feel particularly positive about Mike Cairns’ connection to WNA. He was an exceptional student and now he is part of a legacy of conservation that will have an impact on this generation and beyond.”

To learn more about the Mike Cairns Environmental Sustainability Fellowship or sustainability programs and curriculum at WNA, please contact Virginia Kennedy at

West Nottingham Academy is a diverse, student-centered day and boarding school for students in 9th through 12th grade. Since its founding in 1744, the Academy has prepared students for the challenges of college and life through a curriculum grounded in the liberal arts and sciences, and a commitment to the intellectual, spiritual, and social growth of each student.

© Jennalane Photography
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