Nathan Walker leans forward in his chair, his bare feet shuffling with gracefully controlled energy on the hardwood floor of the Brewery Arts Center.
He speaks softly, measuredly, but with passion, in the way that those with vision, big plans and high hopes often do. He wants to convince people his dream of founding a free liberal arts college in Genoa isn't just so much dust in the Nevada desert wind.
"Ninety percent of the people roll their eyes and say 'Sure, kid, go for it,' but that motivates me," says Walker, 24, cheerfully swatting away any doubts. "Someone built the Chrysler Building. Someone built the Brewery Arts Center. I can build da Vinci College."
Walker, a 1994 Carson High School graduate, envisions da Vinci as a place "designed to ignite the potential of both artists and inventors. The college will be run as an apprenticeship program. Students will learn how to produce and sell their visions.
"The campus will be set up as a continually operating festival, gallery, performance space and culinary school, with sales and admission fees funding the college."
Walker wants to make da Vinci tuition free, although he acknowledges "that may not be entirely practical."
Walker leads a team of artists, advocates and educators from across the U.S. in a planned, thirty-year effort they hope will culminate in da Vinci's opening in 2030 as a fully accredited institution.
Team members have already created a Web site, www.authorship.org. They've also been shaping da Vinci's curriculum, which is divided into Schools of Inquiry, Thought and Expression. The schools will offer classes in biological, physical and applied sciences; history, education and social sciences; and musical, literary, culinary and performing arts.
Walker explained that unlike many colleges, da Vinci students will be encouraged to explore different modes of learning rather than a specific, career-oriented program. They'll become intellectual jacks-of-all-trades, like the school's inspiration, Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci.
The da Vinci development scheme also calls for aggressive fund raising, purchase of land in Genoa, construction of the school's physical plant and operation of the college as a non-credit institution while education officials review its courses to ensure they meet accrediting standards.
Walker admits planning ahead 30 years is unusual when you're 24. "I'm not mapping out my complete life, although I guess I could be intimidated about the long term. But right now, I'm completely committed to da Vinci" in both its creative and practical aspects.
In fact, Walker's life powerfully combines these aspects, making his dreams for da Vinci seem not so unlikely after all.
He graduated from Boston's Emerson College with a B.A. in musical theater performance and a theater arts teaching certification. His degree capped off a lifelong love of theater that's included instructing stints at Western Nevada Community College and Lake Tahoe Community College.
Walker moved to theater's promised land, New York City, after college, but he's returned to Northern Nevada the past couple of summers to work as an artistic director with youth theater programs. He's taught performance techniques, play writing and the technical side of drama.
This summer, Walker's running a multi-media apprenticeship program for the Carson City Recreation Division. He's showing middle school students how to use different media to de-glamorize alcohol.
"He really affects these kids positively," says Recreation Superintendent Barbara Singer. "He's still young enough that they relate to him. He presents information in a way kids will accept."
Walker's also the director of the Brewery Arts Center's summer theater youth camp, overseeing the training of 43 children who'll play the Lost Boys in the BAC's September production of "Peter Pan."
Giving lie to the old theater adage about working with animals and children, Walker "has done a lot of great things," says Catherine Hearn, who plays Peter Pan. "He's taught the kids about upstaging, performing consistently, what it takes to be a good actor, what it takes to be a bad one. He analyzes things in a kid-like way."
And if all this isn't enough, the peripatetic Walker has traveled since June to Bolivia, Idaho, San Francisco and Yerington to conduct theater workshops "to raise my profile as a theater educator and spread the word about da Vinci College."
Walker will enter the doctor of education program at Columbia University's Teacher's College this fall. He'll also work as special projects coordinator for the university's medical department. He'll concentrate on higher education administration and - not surprisingly - he says da Vinci College will be his thesis project.
Walker believes his creative background, studies and his work experience give him the credibility and the tools to shape da Vinci's future. "I hope one day Columbia will come to respect da Vinci enough that the college will be an affiliate and part of Columbia's abroad program."
In the meantime, Walker will keep dreaming and planning. And, though he won't be a professional performer, he'd still like to trod the boards once in a while, as he did on New Year's Eve when he danced in a holiday show at the Marriott Marquis hotel in midtown Manhattan.
"I'm naturally a performer," he says, maybe a little wistfully, recalling the 120 productions he's been in. "But I don't feel the need to go out and be famous. I have a stronger vision - da Vinci. I don't want to change the world. I just want to help it evolve. Building an institution of higher learning will truly help people evolve."