McKeen Center Shines Light on Students Engaging with the Community

Each year, students majoring in a range of subjects from chemistry to art incorporate community projects into their studies, partnering with local agencies from across the street to organizations in places as far away as Asia and Africa.

After classes came to a close this week, the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good held a celebratory symposium in Smith Union to highlight some of this year’s academic and community service projects.

Surrounding a festive display of Maine cheese and fruit along with Gelato Fiasco treats, students stood by their displays to explain their work on issues raining from equal access to education and sustainable communities, to poverty and social justice. The presentations covered service projects, classes or independent studies in biology, chemistry, environmental studies, earth and oceanographic science, education, sociology, government, visual arts and psychology.

Three featured projects

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Emily Weinberger

Poverty and Social Justice
Emily Weinberger ’15

Following an experience observing the New Hampshire prison system her sophomore year, Weinberger received a Forest Foundation fellowship to work with Maine Law the following summer. She dedicated her time to policy work focused on creating a Maine Juvenile Justice Campaign, researching such topics as restorative justice.

The internship with Maine Law inspired Weinberger’s senior honors thesis in psychology titled, “Assigning Legal Punishment: Individual Differences in Justice: Sensitivity and Selective Attention.” Speaking about the value of the Forest Foundation opportunity, Weinberger said, “It was an incredible experience because you can be actively hands-on while still considering your academic interests at Bowdoin….I was able to pursue an honors thesis I’m passionate about because of my real-life experience.” Next year, Weinberger will pursue a career at the Red Hook Community Justice Center through an AVODAH Social Justice Fellowship.

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Courtney Payne and Eileen Johnson, environmental studies lecturer

Sustainable Communities
Courtney Payne ‘15

Payne won a REU grant (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) from the National Science Foundation, which allowed her to spend her summer in Norway’s arctic region. Payne found her experience so enriching that she used her research as a jumping off point for an advanced independent study in oceanography, which also contributed to the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) portion of her class with Eileen Johnson in environmental studies.

In Norway, Payne collected hydrological measurements combined with satellite data to study fjords. She sought to elucidate how warm water entering fjords impacts the water mass formation and phytoplankton surrounding glaciers. Among her findings, she notes that a loss of sea ice leads to earlier phytoplankton blooms, while increased glacier melting can increase sediment erosion and prevent blooming. As part of her GIS work for Bowdoin, Payne developed a map to estimate where warm water flux is most likely to occur around glaciers and fjords.

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David Silverman in Cape Town

International Connections
Maggie Acosta ’16 and David Silverman ’15

Acosta and Silverman are the two McKeen Center fellows who concentrate on the Global Citizens Grant, which funds student work with grassroots organizations each summer. While the Global Citizens Grant has given out eight awards in the recent years, this year saw a record number of applicants, and nine grants were awarded. Acosta and Silverman will help organize an orientation for all grant recipients before they depart, focusing on issues of international service, dependency, international aid and the sociopolitical history of aid. When the students are abroad, they are paired with a previous grant winner who serves as a resource throughout their intense, self-designed summer projects. Upon returning, the group will once again gather together with the fellows and peer mentors to debrief their experience.

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Maggie Acosta in Peru

Acosta chose to continue to be involved as a McKeen Center Fellow after returning from her summer internship because she wanted to share her personal process of understanding international aid work. During her Global Citizens Grant summer, she questioned why she felt the need to go abroad and felt uneasy when she realized she was unsure about the impacts of international aid in general. To resolve her uncertainty, Acosta took courses at Bowdoin about aid relationships on a global scale. Now, as a rising senior, Acosta has concluded that she is still passionate about development work abroad, but disagrees with tactics that try to “market or sell aid.” As a McKeen Center Fellow, she said, “I wanted to talk about the difficult things, and create an environment for other students to talk without feeling like they have to sell their experience to me.”

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