First-year student Ryan Britt, a member of the class of 2022, decided to give up his last pre-college summer at home in Ohio to arrive at Bowdoin two months before the fall semester begins. He came on July 7, with fourteen other students, to join the inaugural Geoffrey Canada Scholars program.
“I wanted to get here early, to get that transition,” Britt said recently, adding that it was a a bit of a departure for him to receive any kind of support. “To this point, I’ve done a lot for myself,” he said.
A month in, he is astonished: “I’m not used to having this much opportunity,” he said.
The Geoffrey Canada Scholars program is just one piece of THRIVE, a new initiative funded by Netflix CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings ’83, to transform the Bowdoin experience for students who are the first in their families to go to college, who come from low-income backgrounds, or who are from groups traditionally underrepresented at the College. The scholars begin their college career in early July, diving into an intensive six-week summer program to prepare them to succeed, to become campus leaders, to flourish in all ways at Bowdoin.
This year’s Geoffrey Canada Scholars come from all over the United States and the world — including two from Maine and one from Rwanda. In the six weeks leading up to orientation for all first-year students, which begins August 20, they take three classes: quantitative reasoning/visual arts, writing and rhetoric, and the science of learning. They meet many staff and faculty at Bowdoin, from librarians to deans. They explore Brunswick and the region. And they get to know one another and the College.
The program is designed to help the students transition to college and to show them how to access resources and find support, according to THRIVE director Jessica Perez. It is also a time for them to get accustomed to college life without some of the pressures that come during the semester. “This is a time for them to learn and grow,” she said. “Being able to start off on a good foot makes such a big difference for the rest of their time here. If you have a sense of how to be successful from the moment you are here, that is going to set you up well.”
An important objective of the Geoffrey Canada Scholars program is to make sure the students feel they belong to the Bowdoin community. “Bowdoin didn’t start as a place that serves these kinds of students, so Bowdoin has to make an extra effort to support them,” Perez said, pointing out that this will also help the College adapt to our society as it continues to become more diverse.
While low-income and first-generation students have been succeeding academically at Bowdoin, Perez said, she noted that “there is so much more potential for them to excel. So Bowdoin is committed to ensuring they can thrive and have the equitable experience they deserve and that they can go out into the world to make it a better place.”
The students will be part of the Geoffrey Canada Scholars program throughout their four years at Bowdoin, participating in regular workshops and community-building programs. Although each of them will independently select their classes this fall, they are all enrolled in the same first-year seminar, a course on dystopian fictions taught by Belinda Kong, Bowdoin’s John F. and Dorothy H. Magee Associate Professor of Asian Studies and English.
George Marin ’22, who is a first-generation college student from the Bronx in New York City, said he opted to attend the Geoffrey Canada Scholars program to get a head start on his college career. “I come from a public high school so I thought I might be kind of behind my peers who come from different backgrounds,” he said.
So far, besides falling in love with Maine, he has loved the photography/math class, he said. “Photography is new to me, and I have enjoyed being exposed to it for the first time,” he said. The group has gone out to spots like the Schiller Coastal Studies Center for photo shoots. “That was exciting, because nature is new to me, photography is new to me. That was fascinating doing something I’ve never done before.”
Journey Browne ’22 grew up in Harlem and so was familiar with Geoffrey Canada’s program in her neighborhood, the Harlem Children’s Zone, which is breaking the cycle of poverty for local families by helping students succeed in high school and college. (The program’s namesake, Canada ’74, H’07, is on THRIVE’s advisory board.) “I chose to apply to the program because I identify with not only [Canada’s] personal story, but his journey at Bowdoin and the program’s values in general, so much,” Browne said.
Since arriving at Bowdoin, Browne has been told, by faculty, by staff, by the program’s three residential advisors — Octavio Castro ’19, Ivy Elgarten ’19, and Elly Veloria ’20, that you don’t have to be a solitary, self-reliant student making one’s own way through college. “And that is what Geoffrey Canada Scholars is all about, like having that sense of community, having that sense that somebody has your back. You don’t have to do it alone. You can do it alone if you want to, but you don’t have to,” she said.