Annual McKeen Center Symposium Celebrates Student-Community Collaboration

Last week, the McKeen Center for the Common Good celebrated all the work students have done over the course of the year that engaged with communities outside of Bowdoin.

The McKeen Center describes the event as “an opportunity for students involved in community engagement through service and research to share what they have learned while working in partnership with organizations throughout Maine and around the globe.”

Janice Jaffe, associate director of the McKeen Center, said, “We wanted to shed light on all the different ways students and staff are working toward the common good.”

At the afternoon celebration Morrell Lounge in Smith Union was packed with students, faculty and staff examining posters and chatting with those who participated in the projects. Brunswick’s Gelato Fiasco served its signature frozen treat, while Bowdoin Dining provided beverages and hors d’oeuvres.

A large portion of the displays featured academic courses that partnered with both the McKeen Center and one or more community organizations to combine in-class study with hands-on community work. These “public engagement courses” ranged from 100-level science classes to advanced independent studies and honors projects.

“It’s important for students to take what they are learning in the classroom and apply it to real-life situations, to put the theories in practice and understand the connections,” said Sarah Seames, director of the McKeen Center. “It’s a reciprocal relationship. The classroom informs community engagement, and community engagement informs academics.”

Lucy Walker ’14 is one such student. Her independent study in the visual arts involved her collaborating with the Brunswick Downtown Association to design, paint and install a mural at the Mid Coast Primary Care and Walk-In Clinic at Brunswick Station.

“I came to a sense of personal connection with the community of Brunswick,” said Walker. “Taking photos of people in town, studying each individual character … I feel I’ve come to know them from sitting with them and studying them over extended periods of time.”

Alex Tougas ’14, a student in the interdisciplinary class Perspectives in Environmental Science, explained the work his class conducted. “The Androscoggin River, up by Lewiston, was not meeting standards of the Clean River Act. There was phosphorous in the river and we wanted to figure out why,” he said. “It was a community project; we all worked together.”

Besides the public engagement courses, the symposium also featured outreach projects that involve the global community, such as the McKeen Center’s Global Citizens program.

One recipient of a Global Citizens grant, Macy Galvan ’13, used her funding to travel to India the summer after her sophomore year. At a summer school outside Delhi, Galvan taught English and photography to young students.

“I initially struggled with the idea of coming to India for eight weeks and then leaving and not really changing anything,” Galvan said. “But the more time I spent with my students, the more I saw a human-to-human connection; those eight weeks were meaningful to them. We were able to teach each other things and learn from one another.”

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