Students Forge Personalized Experiences of Service with Forest Fellowships

Fellowships for the Common GoodWith fellowships from the Forest Foundation, three Bowdoin students have independently forged unique summer experiences, creating opportunities that correlate with their interests.

Considering a career in public health, Tracie Goldsmith ’14 is interning with Bangor’s public health department. Hoping to devote herself to early childhood development, Michelle Johnson ’15 is working with two United Ways in southern Maine. And interested in defending the rights of juveniles, Hannah Wurgaft ’14 is interning at the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic in Portland this summer.

The Forest Foundation supports undergraduates committed to grappling with social problems associated with poverty, women, children or health. This is the fourth year the foundation has supported Bowdoin summer fellows, according to McKeen Center Director Sarah Seames. The organization also places interns from other colleges and universities with nonprofits in the Boston-area, Portsmouth, N.H. and Portland, Maine.

Seames said the foundation’s grants are suitable for self-motivated undergrads who have specialties that don’t always fit within grant parameters. “It’s an opportunity for students to have their summer really reflect what they’re interested in,” she said.

Bowdoin’s 2013 Forest Foundation Fellows

Hannah Wurgaft ’14

Hannah Wurgaft ’14

Last fall, Wurgaft, an Africana studies major, traveled to South Africa for a semester’s study. While living in Cape Town, she volunteered at a children’s after-school dance program in Khayelitsha, an impoverished township near her university.

“Seeing these beautiful, smart, talented kids living without water, with no shoes and dancing on sand…” Wurgaft trailed off. “It killed us. It killed us.” She volunteered there with two other Bowdoin students, William Horne ’14 and Tracy Shirey ’14.

When she returned to the United States, Wurgaft, who is from New Jersey, had a short internship with the Essex County Prosecutor’s office in Newark. Returning to Bowdoin after experiencing these two different worlds, Wurgaft decided she wanted meld her interest in law with her desire to protect vulnerable children. Seames and Janice Jaffe at the McKeen Center steered her toward the Forest Foundation.

Wurgaft connected with the director of the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic, which is part of the University of Maine School of Law, and set up an undergraduate internship at the clinic. Working alongside seven law students and three professors, she is focusing on juvenile, refugee and civil rights.

The more she works in immigration law, Wurgaft says, the more she wants to blend this area with her interest in children. “It’s winning me over,” she said, adding with a note of wistfulness that she would like to help bring some of the children she connected with in Cape Town to the United States. “While abroad, I saw promising kids who, if they were born in a different time and place, would have had a very different life.”

Michelle Johnson:

Michelle Johnson ’15

Michelle Johnson ’15, on right

As a high school senior in Lexington, Mass., Johnson volunteered to tutor adult women studying for their GEDs, which opened her eyes to the failures of our schools. She said the women found it frustrating to learn math after falling through cracks in our public education system.

When Johnson arrived at Bowdoin, she took classes on education and poverty, learning the necessity of well-funded public education and extracurricular programs, particularly for low-income children. “It makes sense financially and for equality,” she said. “It is an everyone-wins situation and it is frustrating it is not being invested in.”

Last summer, she continued her exploration of youth-related issues as a Forest Foundation fellow, placed with a center for at-risk youth. The program, Youth on Fire in Cambridge, Mass., provides housing and job assistance, security, food, cleaning facilities and other services to homeless or transient young people.

The Forest Foundation encourages its fellows to reapply for another summer of support if they can write a persuasive grant for a nonprofit of their choice. Johnson wrote a grant proposal for Tri-County Literacy, in Bath, Maine, and the foundation was impressed enough to fund Tri-County and support Johnson for a second summer of service.

This time around, still focused on youth issues, Johnson designed internships with United Way offices in Portland and Bath. In Portland, Johnson is working with the Westbrook Childrens’ Project, a collaborative effort between the city, schools and other organizations to prepare students for college, jobs or the military after high school. In Bath, Johnson is helping the United Way organize a symposium on childhood development that will take place at Bowdoin in the fall.

Tracie Goldsmith:

Tracie Goldsmith ’14

Tracie Goldsmith ’14

Over the course of her day at Bangor Health and Community Service, where she is interning this summer, Goldsmith might take minutes at a meeting on human trafficking in the Bangor area, shadow a case manager, or take part in public outreach for the federal food program SNAP, formally known as food stamps.

Goldsmith says the public health internship fits into her career goals. “Professionally, I hope to have a career in law focused on human rights (including access to healthcare), so learning more about the intricacies of public health as well as the legal and political aspects of funding and implementing policies will undoubtedly be useful,” she wrote in an email.

At Bowdoin, her major in history and minor in biology have helped Goldsmith better understand the links between healthcare, poverty and disease. From her studies, she has insight into “the historical reasons and trends which help explain why some populations have been, and continue to be, more vulnerable than others, and why there is no ‘quick fix’ to the problems of poverty,” she explained.

See, read and watch more stories about the summer adventures of Bowdoin students around the world.

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