News Archive 2009-2018

McKeen Symposium Highlights Link Between College and Community Archives


Symposium attendees
symposium Read the Symposium program to see the diversity of student projects in social justice, art, education, sustainability, and diversity.

Each year the McKeen Center for the Common Good invites students to present the work they’ve done over the past year—for classes, independent studies, or for extracurricular community service—that has involved people or organizations in Brunswick, the midcoast region, or elsewhere in Maine.

“This celebratory symposium provides an opportunity for students involved in communities through service and research to share their projects and stories about what they’ve learned as a result of working for the benefit of society,” the McKeen Center explained on its invitation to the event.

The Morrell Lounge in Smith Union on May 12 was filled with students chatting in front of posters, gelato in hand (gelato and other snacks were provided). In this article, we focus on four of those students.

Kelsey Freeman ’16


Kelsey Freeman ’16

At the symposium, Freeman chatted about the trajectory of her work with indigenous people in the United States and in Mexico. Since she was a high school student in Colorado, Freeman said she’s been interested in the political power of marginalized communities. After graduating from high school, she worked on a Native reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. When she got to Bowdoin, where she majored in government and legal studies, she began looking more closely at the relationship between the state and indigenous populations. She wondered why this relationship is so fraught, and she began investigating what had happened historically and what was happening currently to fray ties.

Last summer, Freeman received a Denning Summer Fellowship through the McKeen Center to work at a social services agency for Native American children in Portland, Ore. There she designed and taught summer classes for elementary-aged children. At Bowdoin, she established connections with Maine’s Passamaquoddy people and led Alternative Spring Break Trips for Bowdoin students to the Passamaquoddy reservation at Pleasant Point.

In her junior year, Freeman studied abroad in Mexico, where she completed an independent project on Mayan education. She said she found many political similarities between indigenous groups there and in the United States. For her honors project, Freeman researched two indigenous movements in Latin America, one in Mexico and the other in Ecuador, examining the strategies the people used to engage with the government. She received an Grua/O’Connell research award to travel to Mexico over winter break this year and interview human rights activists.

Next year, Freeman has a Fulbright fellowship to teach English in Mexico. While she says her career plans are uncertain, she is considering pursuing a policy career with a focus on Native affairs.

Victor Leos ’16

vistor leos

Victor Leos ’16

Leos this year helped establish a series of community discussions that involved staff, faculty, students, and community members who were invited to gather and respond to current events or social issues. Working closely with Michelle Vazquez Jacobus, the McKeen Center’s interim associate director, Leos organized discussions on minorities in science, Syrian refugees, the presidential primaries, and anonymous social media.

For the final What Matters event, Leos said he wanted participants to speak more personally. He called it “What Matters: People,” and asked attendees to share their individual experiences to counter some of the generalizations reported in the media in this time when “anti-immigrant and discriminatory rhetoric are used as political fuel,” Leos said.

At the event, Leos shared the story of his family’s move from Mexico to Fort Worth, Texas. Neither of his parents are educated beyond high school, but their three children have all attended elite colleges. Other students at the event described their own family stories. Leos said this event was “a great way to end my senior year and my Bowdoin Career.”

This summer, Leos will work as a math and science teaching assistant at Phillips Academy in a program, which he attended, that is geared toward minority students. Eventually, he wants to apply to graduate school in zoology, environmental education, or environmental studies. Leos said his dream is to return to Fort Worth and launch a program to get urban youth outdoors. “I didn’t have that growing up,” he said. Once he got to Bowdoin, he fell in love with the environment and majored in biology and environmental studies, and minored in anthropology.

Paul Sullivan ’16 and Wilder Nicholson ’16

paulsullivan and wildernicholson

Paul Sullivan and Wilder Nicholson

The two friends—who attended elementary, middle, and high school together in Brunswick, Maine, and who traveled to Thailand on the same study-abroad program—collaborated this year on a documentary about two Maine fishermen. They also made a film in Thailand about land-rights conflicts and land reform.

In their Maine fisheries video, Nicholson and Sullivan tell the story of two men: Phil Gray, a wild shellfish harvester who is starting an aquaculture oyster and mussel business, and fishermen Tom Casamassa, who has had to severely cut back on his shrimping and groundfishing ventures due to regulatory constraints.

“With Phil Gray, we’re telling the story of ecological difficulties,” Nicholson said. As the invasive green crab continues to decimate Maine’s shellfish, Gray is seeking alternative ways to make a living. And by sharing Tom Cassamassa’s story, Sullivan said “we’re presenting the regulation challenges fishermen face.”

The two students also collaborated with a class at Harpswell Coastal Academy to teach documentary filmmaking. “Working with HCA, we’ve seen how powerful a tool film can be in terms of education,” Sullivan said. “It requires students to collaborate and learn about a topic in a gripping way.” The Bowdoin and HCA students will be showing their documentaries on June 7 in Beam classroom.

After graduation, Nicholson said he is launching a freelance videography business and working at Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick. Sullivan is leading a backpacking trip for teenagers this summer before moving to Montana, where he’ll work and prepare to hike the Pacific Crest Trail next spring.