Annual McKeen Symposium Celebrates Community

commongood1Reported by Amanda Spiller ’17

At the McKeen Center’s annual symposium, held last week in Morrell Lounge, students presented individual and class projects that have, over the past year, linked the College with the community. Their projects included both community service as well as independent research in biology, math, sociology, Spanish and environmental studies.

The symposium stands as a “beautiful example” of the value of a liberal arts education, according to Janice Jaffe, associate director of the McKeen Center. The projects are not only diverse but often multidisciplinary in their scope. “Students [at the symposium] talk to one another and they see the relationships between projects,” she said. ”It takes a community and all its different perspectives and research skills to address these issues.”

Some of the issues presented at the symposium this year were equal access to education, sustainable communities, poverty and social justice, and international connections.

Bowdoin President Barry Mills listens to students describe their projects

Bowdoin President Barry Mills at the May 8 symposium

The following are brief descriptions of a few of the many student projects presented at the symposium:

Marble Karuu ’14,independent study, sociology, “Academic Engagement of Somali Immigrants in Lewiston”
Karuu studied Somali youth in Lewiston, Maine, looking at their trajectories in public schools. She found that gender played a big role in determining how the students interacted with their school and where they hoped to go after graduating. Girls are restricted by dress codes and cultural expectations, while boys are freer to do activities such as sports. Consequently, the boys are more connected to the school and community and engage more with non-Somali peers. Girls, however, did end up wanting to go to colleges farther away, perhaps a sign of “yearning for freedom,” Karuu said.

Sarah Levy ’16, volunteer at Portland Adult Education
Levy began as a classroom assistant and is now a one-on-one tutor at Portland Adult Education, a school that provides classes to non-English speaking students. The students range in age from 19 to 80 and come from many different countries. Levy’s student, from Burundi, passed the GED after nine months of ESL classes and one-on-one tutoring. “Everyone at PAE is so motivated, enthusiastic, and excited to learn,” she said. “It was exciting for me to learn from them.” Levy added that the school always needs more volunteers, and that “there are over 50 students waiting for a tutor and even more waiting to get into classes.”

Assistant Professor of Mathematics Jack O’Brien with students Caroline Pierce ’16 and Brian Francoeur ’16, Statistics I class
The students analyzed data from Portland Adult Education to track the progress of ESL students based on the number of language classes they have taken. PAE works with refugee populations in Portland, Maine, and is in need of funding. “There’s a cap at the number of classes a student of PAE can take due to its funding,” Pierce said. Francoeur added that “if [we] can show that ESL classes are really that crucial, PAE may have a case for more funding.” Their research is ongoing.

Monica Bouyea ’14, independent study, sociology, “Latino Community and Access to Justice in Portland”
Bouyea looked at the challenges facing Latinos in Portland, Maine, in accessing justice, namely legal services. One of the major barriers is linguistic: She found that despite a growing population of Latinos in Portland, there are limited Spanish speaking staff at legal agencies. Also, some Latinos are worried about seeking help because they come from countries with oppressive or corrupt law enforcement agencies, or because they are undocumented. “When you put the barriers together…it can unfold a whole new understanding of the struggle of these immigrants,” Bouyea said. She recommends that legal service providers, courts, law enforcement agencies, and other service organizations hire bi-lingual and bicultural staff whenever possible and praised the Portland Police Department for recently hiring and officer from Venezuela.

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