Like Bowdoin’s other orientation trips, the Bowdoin Science Experience expects its first-year participants to camp out and rough it — to an extent. During their first few days at the College, they all sleep in sleeping bags, crowded onto a floor in a residence hall.
But the Bowdoin Science Experience, or BSE, also adds a few elements, such as dinners with faculty members, work in labs, tours of the campus’s libraries and other academic resources, and meetings with helpful staff members.
BSE is designed to, in just four and a half days, “give [incoming students] a crash course in how this place works,” chemistry lecturer Michael Danahy explained. He oversees the program, which is one of the orientation trip options students can select to kick off their Bowdoin education.
This year, twenty-eight students participated in BSE, along with eighteen upper-class mentors and seven faculty. BSE students are generally from groups historically under-represented in the sciences, such as first-generation students, students of color, females interested in the physical sciences, and students from rural Maine.
During orientation week, the BSE students participate in two half-day labs with their faculty advisors, splitting up into groups of three or four. Reflecting their preferences, they’re assigned to a professor of biology, chemistry, computer science, earth and oceanographic science, math, or neuroscience. Beyond their own advisors, they also meet other science faculty, as well as with instructors in Bowdoin’s Center for Learning and Teaching, science librarians, and career advisors.
“They are the kings and queens of this place for a few days because no one else is around,” Danahy said. “The whole idea is to get them oriented to what this place has, so that once school starts, these places are known entities.” Then during the school year, two BSE first-year students are paired with an upper-class mentor, students “who have figured this place out so they can pass on their wisdom to the students.”
Bowdoin also extends work-study jobs in science faculty laboratories to BSE students. Despite being a first-year students, “they get into research settings a little earlier. They’re getting to see how a lab works, and participating in lab research,” Danahy said.
Eskedar Girmash ’21, a BSE mentor this year, got a job last year in professor Jack Bateman’s lab, doing genetics research. Following that position, she worked for the summer in a research lab at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Girmash said that BSE “really capitalizes on the small size of the school, getting you connected with all the faculty here and all the resources that are available so you can start your year really strong.”