Q&A with Abby Roy ’16 and Danielle Orchant ’14: Giving Maine Kids a Chance at College

Abby Roy and Danielle Orchant, 2013 Mitchell Institute interns

Abby Roy and Danielle Orchant, 2013 Mitchell Institute interns

Abby Roy ’16 and Danielle Orchant ’14 are working this summer at the intersection of education and social justice. They are research interns for the Portland-based Mitchell Institute, which provides scholarships each year to one student from each of Maine’s 130 public high schools. Roy, from Winslow, Maine, is a Mitchell Scholar herself. To support their summer work, Roy and Orchant are both funded by Community Matters in Maine Fellowships, one of Bowdoin’s many grants that support students’ summer experiences.

Bowdoin Daily Sun: Tell me a little more about the Mitchell institute.

Abby Roy: It was founded by Senator George Mitchell [Class of 1954] in 1995. He founded the Mitchell Scholarship Program in 1995, and it became the Mitchell Institute in 1999. It is the only scholarship and research institute that provides scholarships and support after high school to one [graduating senior] from every Maine public high school. The application focuses on three things: community involvement, academic achievement and financial needs. They do programs and networking to help their scholars to achieve in and out of college.

Danielle Orchant: Their mission is to increase the likelihood that students from every community in Maine will aspire to go to college, so they provide these scholarships and do research to look at the underlying issues surrounding [why more Maine students don’t go to college].

BDS: What drew you to the organization?

DO: We were both very interested in education and wanted to [gain experience] in the field. …There was also a tie to my academic interests; I’m majoring in Africana studies with an education studies minor, and I’m most interested in the intersections of those two [disciplines]. [Racial opportunity gaps are] prominent in Portland and Lewiston, with the large immigrant and refugee communities, and I’m interested in how this and other indicators like socioeconomic achievement gaps and gender impact college aspirations. That makes [the Mitchell Institute] a really good fit for me.

BDS: So what do you specifically do for the Mitchell institute?

DO: We’re research interns, but we research different things. I’ve been looking more broadly at issues of college access, college achievement and college completion. I’ve been compiling a literature review of recent scholarly articles and newspaper articles and analyzing data.

AR: I do more of the scholar side [of the research]. I looked earlier in the summer at [the Mitchell Institute’s] application trends — that is, how many students from each high school applied and what the statistics are for that high school. The application [for the Mitchell Scholarship] went online in 2012, and it’s interesting to look at some of the data for how many [students] applied before and after it went online. In some cases, we had the number of applications for certain schools go up as much as 300% or 400% the first year that the application went online.

BDS: Do you think you’d want to do something like this after Bowdoin?

DO: Yes, I want to teach for a while, preferably in special education in or near a city, and see where that takes me.

AR: Right now I’m thinking [of majoring in] anthropology and education, and then also teaching high school after college, in northern New England if not Maine.

BDS: What has been most challenging about this experience so far?

AR: It was [challenging to gain] the confidence to know that my work could be reliable and not to go check with my supervisor all the time.

BDS: In your opinion, what sets the Mitchell Scholarship apart from other scholarships?

DO: It’s more than just money. It’s an entire community and networking and support after [high school].

AR: The support they give to students after high school, besides just giving them a check every year, is really helpful. Sometimes Mitchell scholars will come in to the office just to say hi or update us on what they’re doing. It’s really kind of like a family.

See more stories about the summer experiences of Bowdoin students around the world on our #BowdoinMap.

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