Recently selected for summer placements in nonprofits throughout Maine’s midcoast, this year’s Community Matters in Maine fellows gathered recently to hear more about what to expect from the best source: alumni of the program.
The students selected for the program met in Adams Hall with last year’s fellows Dan Peckham ’12 and Amar Patel ’13. In its fifth year, the Community Matters in Maine fellowship, jointly managed by the Environmental Studies Program and the McKeen Center, places students with local organizations not only to provide work experience for students, but also to strengthen partnerships between the college and the community.
Unique to the program is the opportunity for the fellows to meet as a group over the course of the summer to hear about each others’ experiences. In addition to these regular meetings, students go on two site visits to broaden their knowledge about the range of organizations engaged in social service and environmental work in Maine. “By having students gather over the course of the summer and talk about their experiences, they are able to see the connections between organizations. For example, our students who work with organizations like the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust and Preble Street begin to understand how both organizations are addressing issues such as food security,” says Eileen Johnson, Program Manager of Environmental Studies.
Having a program in place for many years allows the fellows to pass along their wisdom and suggestions. At this inaugural gathering, Peckham and Patel shared their perspectives on last summer. Peckham, who worked with the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, encouraged this year’s students to “ask questions, take on as much as you can, and you’ll get more out of the experiences.”
Patel attributes the opportunity to work with a Bowdoin alumnus through his fellowship at the Maine Center for Economic Policy as giving him insight on future career opportunities. “Until this summer, I hadn’t considered how pursuing a law degree might open up other opportunities, such as applying legal knowledge to economic development.” He encouraged students to talk with as many people as possible in their organizations to learn different career paths.
Both students continued to build upon their experiences after the summer ended. Patel developed an independent study with William D. Shipman Professor of Economics John Fitzgerald on the topic of local economies. “The idea came from a conversation very early on in the summer – on a topic that they didn’t have staffing to address at that point so I offered to take on the project.” That project evolved into a full-semester independent study.
Peckham built upon his fellowship project – the development of a strategic conservation plan for Kennebec Estuary Land Trust – as a community-based project for the fall class, “Introduction to GIS.” At the end of the semester, he continued on his own time to work with the land trust, helping it move forward with its strategic conservation plan. He attributed this experience as a significant dimension of his job search. “In my interview and resume, I was able to talk about my experience in project management and stakeholder engagement. Although my current job with a consulting firm is not necessarily related to last summer’s experience, it provided me with critical experience that I could apply to my job search.”
Students also composed a letter to next year’s fellow. “Sometimes it has to do with the best place to get a sandwich, but consistently, the students encourage next year’s fellows to meet as many people, learn as much as they can,” says Susie Dorn, director of the McKeen Center. Students receive their letters from last year’s fellows on the first day of their fellowship. “It’s become a nice tradition of the program,” she says.
Beyond the fellowship, Patel and Peckham also encourage students to explore Maine. “Maine is an awesome place to spend the summer,” says Patel. “Get out and explore. I kayaked for the first time in my life last summer because I had the chance to be here.” Peckham hiked Mt. Katahdin. However, Peckham admitted that he didn’t follow all of the advice of last summer’s fellowship alumni. “When I was in your shoes last year, the previous summer’s fellow told us we had to check out the farmer’s market. I never got a chance to do that, but you should be sure to!”