Promoting a Lifelong Love of History

April 21, 2023

By funding an award for transfer students majoring in History, Dan Singer is supporting an educational path that has enriched his life.

Dan Singer with Erika Castaño

Dan Singer with Erika Castaño, assistant librarian and archivist with Special Collections. He is holding the first hand-written copy of the song 'Bear Down Arizona' – written on an airplane vomit bag.

When Dan Singer first went to college, at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, he was not a good student.

“I had very poor marks in my first semester,” Dan said. “And in my second semester I proved that if you don’t do any work, you still get poor marks.” 

Dan dropped out of college, but over the years both he and his wife, Brenda, took various classes for work or pleasure. Brenda had a keen interest in anthropology and took accounting and computer programming courses for her job as bookkeeper for the William and Mary Singer Family Foundation. Bill was an investor.

Dan and Brenda Singer

Dan and Brenda Singer

In 2007, the couple decided to temporarily relocate to Tucson to help Dan’s parents who had developed health complications. As Canadian citizens, the Singers decided the easiest way to be able to live in Tucson was for Dan to become an international student.

“It wasn’t that I had a burning desire to get degrees,” Dan said.

Dan started his higher learning journey at Pima Community College. He graduated with an associate degree with highest honors and received a scholarship to the University of Arizona. He majored in history and minored in creative writing, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2013, at the age of 58.

“One thing about A’s is they are very addictive,” Dan said, adding that he would send his daughter, currently working on her Ph.D. in nursing, updates on his good grades. “I enjoyed taking courses just for interest and fun rather than for a job.”

Dan then went to Arizona State University to obtain a master’s in interdisciplinary studies.

“After ASU, my dad was still alive and kicking so I went back to the UA and got my master’s in legal studies in 2018,” Dan said. “What was my motivation? Not getting kicked out of the country! But school was actually quite enjoyable.

Exploring History and Writing

“I was always a bit of a history nerd,” Dan said. “One of my favorite books when I was a kid was Ivanhoe. I would look up how close the fictional characters were to the real-life characters. I still do that to this day.”

Dan added, “If you don’t know where you’ve been, how do you know where you’re going? Right now, I see a whitewashing of history. I think it’s a great disservice.”

Dan recalls his time as a history student with great fondness. A course he took on biographies with History Professor Julia Clancy-Smith stands out.

For a course paper, he wrote about Alexander Thomas Augusta (1825-1890), a veteran of the Civil War and the first Black professor of medicine in the United States.

“He was one of these characters who’ve been forgotten or overshadowed,” Dan said.

Dan has been working on expanding that class assignment into a historical novel on the period.

“I’m only in it around 25 to 30 pages,” Dan said. “I found that writing historical fiction is difficult. You need to get all the life details right. You wonder, ‘Did he tie his shoe?’ Now you need to research clothing of the period, and research can be a form of procrastination.”

Dan got into creative writing for the first time while attending Pima Community College. “I wrote a story about a tree, and it won a writing contest,” Dan said. When he was at UArizona, he submitted a different piece to The Saturday Evening Post.

“I got rejected by the best,” he said with a laugh, adding that the piece was published in a transfer student magazine.

Investing in Dedicated Students

Dan and Brenda, who now live in Mississauga, Ontario, make many gifts on behalf of the William and Mary Singer Family Foundation, named after Dan’s parents.

“Giving money away is in its own way very intoxicating,” Dan said. “It’s more fun giving than working.”

The couple prefer donating to local nonprofits, although they support national ones, as well. Locally, the Foundation has given to the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Tucson Wildlife Center, Salvation Army, Emerge Against Domestic Abuse, among others.

Dan Singer with Erika Castaño, History Professor Steve Johnstone, and History Head Katherine Morrissey.

Dan Singer with Erika Castaño, History Professor Steve Johnstone, and History Head Katherine Morrissey.

“We like to help people in immediate need, especially in the areas of family, animals, education, and health,” Brenda said. “My focus is on children because my background initially was with children. We look for grassroot organizations.”

Dan decided to create the Daniel Singer Transfer Student Award – “I have enough of an ego that I wanted my name on it” – for history majors because he recognized the department might not receive as many gifts as say medicine or law. Members of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, where Dan was vice president of membership, receive preference. 

Dan recalls many transfer students in Phi Theta Kappa who were not wealthy and some came from diverse backgrounds and were older. “Some had kids, and they were getting the kind of marks I was getting, so I was impressed,” Dan said.

Dan added, “Transfer students are going into their third year, so they have an idea that this is what they want to do. It’s a good investment.”

“In our history classrooms we’ve been quite impressed with the quality of transfer students,” said Katherine Morrissey, head of the Department of History. “But we are also mindful of the fiscal challenges these students face as they move from their first two years at a community college to the University of Arizona to complete their degree.

“The availability of an undergraduate scholarship specifically for transfer students is a tremendous benefit. It recognizes their merit, celebrates their academic achievements, and facilitates the completion of their BAs,” Morrissey said. “The Department of History is extremely grateful to Dan and Brenda Singer for their generous support.”

This story was included in the Spring 2023 Developments newsletter