Lifelong Learning: Bowdoin Extends its Education to the Community

This fall, earth and oceanographic science professor Phil Camill is teaching a six-session course, on alternating Monday evenings, about climate change and “weird weather.” The attendees are mostly retired people living in Brunswick and nearby who belong to the Association of Bowdoin Friends.

In his first 90-minute session, Camill began describing the modern climate system and talked about phenomena that affect weather patterns, such as solar radiation and the Coriolis effect. In later classes, he’ll cover historical climate changes, and both human and non-human drivers of climate change. After the course is done, students will have covered a billion years of Earth’s history.

“I love this opportunity to engage with the public,” Camill said as he introduced himself to his new students. He explained that he frames the “story of climate change” in a way to help people better understand it in the context of diverse media coverage, some of it quite politically charged, and the weather events they are witnessing. “Every citizen on the planet should know this stuff,” he added.

A Bulletin notice about Phil Camill’s mini course on climate change

Camill’s class is the latest in a long line of mini courses that faculty have offered to the community going back to at least 2002 (when the archival records begin). The educational series started as book discussions led by a professor, before morphing into more traditional seminar-style classes in 2008, partly in response to the program’s growing popularity. (Community members may also audit regular classes at Bowdoin, if they are granted permission from the professor.)

Sara Smith is the administrative coordinator for Bowdoin’s communications office who manages the Association of Bowdoin Friends. She works with the association’s steering committee to select faculty to teach a new class each year. “It’s usually an older, mature audience,” Smith said about the class goers. “They are engaged, there is a conversation, and they tend to ask a lot of questions.”

History professor Allen Wells, who taught a mini course on Latin American revolutions in 2010, said he lectured about a different revolutionary movement for each class session, assigning one book per movement. “The participants’ level of engagement was very high; they came prepared to discuss and ask questions about the readings; they also brought their collective life experiences—several had spent time in Latin America—to each class,” he said. “And the give-and-take was infectious.”

Julie Hendrickson, a Bowdoin Friend, is on the committee who selects faculty to teach the mini courses. She has taken every single mini course offered since 2008. She says the group often looks for topics that are timely. “This is a group that is interested in what’s going on,” she said. “They’re lifelong learners.”

Judy and Rod Collette P’87 have also not missed a mini course or book discussion since moving to the area in 2000. “We just enjoy learning,” Judy said. “There’s always something more to learn.” Judy is on the Friend’s community lecture and student interaction committee.

Rod, who graduated from Bowdoin with the Class of 1956, said he thought the subject of this year’s mini course was well chosen. “It’s very much in the news,” he said. “I want to get more factual information than emotional information.”

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