Tag Archives: common good

Community Matters Fellows Tackle Social, Environmental Issues

The 22 students granted 2014 Community Matters in Maine Fellowships recently gathered in front of advisors and peers to present on their summer internship experiences. The fellows worked on a wide range of social and environmental issues, including food insecurity, fisheries conservation, access to higher education for Mainers, and town planning in Brunswick and Topsham. Take a look at the projects they accomplished and some photos from the fellowship celebration.Community Matters in Maine 2014

Community Matters


Emily Weinberger ’15, Nora Hefner ’16, and Jordan Lantz ’15


Marisa Browning-Kamins ’16 presents on her experience at the Nature Conservancy


Tenzin Tsagong ’16 addresses the full audience about working at Preble Street


Back row (from left): Marisa Browning-Kamins ’16, Elena Schaef ’16, Bryan Golger ’15, Justin Ehringhaus ’16, Marko Peraica ’15, Emily Weinberger ’15, Katherine Churchill ’16, Hugh Ratcliffe ’15, Mariana Guzman Marquez ’16. Front row (from left): Wilder Nicholson ’16, Audrey Phillips ’16, Grace Butler ’16, Caitlin Schaffer ’16, Madeline Davis ’16, Kaylee Wolfe ’15, Violet Ranson ’16, Simon Pritchard ’16, Elizabeth Szuflita ’15, Tenzin Tsagong ’16, Nora Hefner ’16, Jordan Lantz ’15

by Catherine Yochum '15

50 Years of Upward Bound at Bowdoin

In 1965, Bowdoin College signed on to participate in a newly minted federal program, part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. Launched by the Department of Education, Upward Bound was designed to give high school kids from low-income backgrounds a boost in getting into college.

In the almost half century since, 2,000 students have graduated from Bowdoin’s Upward Bound program. Between 85% and 90% of these alumni have gone on to college. All have come from Maine towns with underfunded schools and high rates of poverty, and most are the first in their family to attend university.

“We’re looking for students with the motivation to go to college and who have hurdles to getting to college that we can help with,” said Bridget Mullen, Bowdoin’s Upward Bound director. Mullen has worked with this program for more than 20 years. “They’re all here because we believe they can go to college and they say they want to go.”

Perhaps the most critical component of Upward Bound is its summer residential experience. Each July, about 100 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors travel to Bowdoin’s campus where they live in dorms, take classes and act like college students for six weeks. Living away from home in a collegiate environment can bolster a sense of independence and confidence. “We build the skills to persist,” Mullen said. “That’s the endgame: we want our students to not only go to college but to be successful and have the skills to finish.”

Upward Bound’s summer program not only offers classes in math, lab science, foreign language and writing taught by local high school teachers, but also provides SAT preparation, extracurricular courses, and workshops on college financial aid and scholarships. Each summer the program hires 15 college students to work as residential advisors and teacher assistants. More than half are Bowdoin students — others come from schools throughout the country.

Beyond this, Upward Bound staff provide follow-up services to participants in their hometowns throughout the academic year by monitoring grades, offering college advice, assisting with financial aid and providing tutoring when needed. The majority of participants enroll in the program for two or three years, coming back each summer to Bowdoin for the residential experience.

In Maine, four other campuses offer Upward Bound programs besides Bowdoin: University of Maine Farmington, University of Southern Maine, University of Maine Orono and University of Maine Presque Isle. Each school receives a renewable five-year federal grant to run their program. Bowdoin Upward Bound’s 2014-2015 budget is $444,224, which breaks down to just over $4,100 per student. In Bowdoin’s case, the College also contributes an additional $30,000 or so each year by discounting dorm room rates and providing benefits to Upward Bound staff.

That investment pays off. Graduates of Upward Bound are twice as likely than their low-income, first-generation peers to attend college. Once they are there, they are five times more likely to graduate by age 24.

by Rebecca Goldfine

Bowdoin Environmental Fellows Work for a Healthier Maine

This summer, 11 Bowdoin students with environmental fellowships are working in Maine and contributing, in a range of ways, to protecting our natural resources. One is interning for a consulting and engineering firm; another is creating an economic impact study of bicycling in Maine. Others are working for town planning offices, environmental advocacy groups and land trusts.

The students all have fellowships from Bowdoin’s Community Matters in Maine environmental program. Two grants in this program — the Psi Upsilon and the Logan Environmental fellowships — focus on the environment; the other grants, overseen by the McKeen Center, provide students with opportunities to work on civic or social issues. With these donor-backed fellowships, students can explore potential careers and help nonprofits that might not have the budget to pay them a wage.

This video features three Psi Upsilon fellows and two Maine organizations: Madeline Davis ’16 and Simon Pritchard ’16 at Portland’s Environmental Health Strategy Center, and Wilder Nicholson ’16 at the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust.

The 2014 Community Matters in Maine Environmental Fellows:

  • Audrey Phillips ’16 (Environmental Studies/Earth and Oceanographic Science/Education): Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association
  • Grace Butler ’16 (Environmental Studies/Sociology): Bicycle Coalition of Maine
  • Hugh Ratcliffe ’15 (Environmental Studies/Earth and Oceanographic Science): Stantec Consulting
  • Libby Szuflita ’15 (Environmental Studies/Sociology): The Town of Topsham
  • Madeline Davis ’16 (Environmental Studies/Biology, Math): Environmental Health Strategy Center
  • Mariana Marquez ’16 (Environmental Studies/Earth and Oceanographic Science): The Nature Conservancy
  • Marisa Browning-Kamins ’16 (Environmental Studies/Earth and Oceanographic Science): The Nature Conservancy
  • Nora Hefner ’16 (Environmental Studies/Biology, Visual Arts): Penobscot East Resource Center
  • Simon Pritchard ’16 (Environmental Studies/Government, German): Environmental Health Strategy Center
  • Violet Ranson ’16 (Environmental Studies/Sociology, Japanese): Town of Brunswick
  • Wilder Nicholson ’16 (Environmental Studies/Economics, Classics): Brunswick Topsham Land Trust

To see what other Bowdoin students are up to this summer, check out this interactive map by Nina Underman ’15.

by Rebecca Goldfine

Bowdoin Engineering Student Designs Stander for Disabled Children

Scott Mitchell ’15, left, and Dartmouth student William Persampieri display the standing frame. Photograph by Douglas Fraser

Scott Mitchell ’15, left, and Dartmouth student William Persampieri display the standing frame at Dartmouth. Photo by Douglas Fraser.

When Scott Mitchell began his junior year away at Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College last fall, one of his first assignments was to design and implement a low-cost solution to a social problem. Mitchell is a five-year, dual-degree student at Bowdoin and Dartmouth, pursuing both a liberal arts and an engineering degree.

Mitchell knew from his experience as a volunteer with Medical Ministry International, a global charity that provides free healthcare, that clinics in developing countries often struggle to obtain equipment common in the United States. From age 15, Mitchell has regularly volunteered in Central and South America with the charity. Last summer he interned in Arequipa, Peru, working as an interpreter and an assistant to medical staff.

A physical therapist in Arequipa told Mitchell that young cerebral palsy patients who cannot stand or walk should be using standing frames. The frames, which prop users upright, help children develop stronger bones and muscles, and they improve circulatory and respiratory systems. Standers also enable children to engage in more family activities and be more social. The trouble is that standers are prohibitively expensive, with price tags in the thousands of dollars, and the clinic could not afford them.

To address the clinic’s need, Mitchell worked with a team of three other engineering students to design a stander that not only worked, but was also adjustable, comfortable and most importantly, inexpensive. Using wood and hardware commonly found in stores around the world, the team invented and built a stander in seven weeks that cost just $50 to make. The stander can accommodate children up to 44 inches, approximately the height of a seven year old.

Founding a Nonprofit

This summer, Mitchell is working with a different team of engineering students (the original designers are pursuing other projects, he said) to launch a 501(c)3 that can manufacture and distribute the standers to clinics — for free — around the world. Stand With Me is now a registered nonprofit in Maine, where Mitchell grew up, and Mitchell holds a provisional patent that protects his intellectual property while he files for a permanent patent.

Mitchell received a Thomas Andrew McKinley ’06 Entrepreneur Grant Fund for up to $5,000 from Bowdoin’s Funded Internship Program to help him start Stand With Me. He is also working a day job at Adimab, an antibody engineering company in Lebanon, N.H.

image.pngDemand for the product has already begun. “We’re taking orders from nonprofit organizations that are requesting the standers,” Mitchell said. He is trying to raise $10,000 to grow Stand With Me and to produce the first 100 to 300 standers, and is seeking lumber yards willing to donate wood to bring the manufacturing cost down to $20 per stander. The nonprofit is also hoping to partner with corporate sponsors that could help streamline production and distribution.

At the moment, Mitchell is using Dartmouth’s computerized machine shop to mill out wood parts. Mitchell and his partners then put together the more complicated sections of the device, leaving it mostly unfinished. One the stander’s distinguishing features is that it is based on the IKEA furniture system, where products come in preassembled pieces to be put together by customers. “This allows for low assembly cost and small shipping fees,” Mitchell explained.

Although Mitchell, who is a biochemistry major at Bowdoin, plans to go to medical school to become a surgeon, he holds ambitious plans for Stand With Me. The organization’s mission statement is purposefully broad: To provide “children and adults in need around the world with affordable medical devices.” Mitchell would like Stand With Me to one day make a whole line of rehabilitation products, including standers for older children and adults, walkers, and a device that allows handicapped children to ride horses.

“One of the things I’m fed up with is people getting taken advantage of [by the medical system], and things costing way more than they need to,” Mitchell said. “What I imagine with this is taking technology that already exists and applying it in the most useful and efficient way to people who can’t afford it.”

To learn more about what students are doing at Bowdoin and all over the world this summer, check out this interactive map by Nina Underman ’15.

by Rebecca Goldfine

Townies: Students Work for Brunswick, Topsham

Libby Szuflita ’15 and Violet Ranson ’16 are mapping parts of Topsham and Brunswick this summer to help local administrators make land-use decisions that will improve town life and reconcile the sometimes conflicting needs of residents, businesses and wildlife.

The students — who are both majoring in environmental studies and sociology — are working in the towns’ planning departments this summer. (Ranson is working for Brunswick; Szuflita for Topsham.) Both have Psi Upsilon Sustainability/Environmental Justice Fellowships from Bowdoin’s Environmental Studies program to fund their summertime jobs. The competitive grants are awarded every summer to students who intern at Maine environmental organizations, including town planning offices. Because these fellowships often require competence with GPS and GIS, Environmental Studies Program Manager Eileen Johnson offers a two-day course in mapmaking in early June.

While they are working in the planning departments of two small towns that sit side by side, Ranson’s and Szuflita’s tasks are quite different.

One of Ranson’s projects is to conduct an assessment of some of the town’s conservation easements. She checks for invasive species and activities that violate deed restrictions, such as dumping and unauthorized development. With town planner Jeremy Doxsee, she heads out with a GPS to walk the town’s conserved lands, and with their data, is making maps to present to the town’s Conservation Commission. Ranson is also creating a map of proposed zoning districts for Brunswick’s updated zoning ordinances. She said she hopes to parlay her internship and academic experiences into a career in environmental sociology, helping communities to be ecologically healthy and socially just.

Brunswick’s planning and development office has hired Bowdoin fellows each summer going back almost a decade. Doxsee said he appreciates Bowdoin students and the college’s partnership with the town, particularly the introductory mapmaking class Johnson offers, which she opens to students’ summer supervisors when there is space. “Bringing in interns in the summer infuses the department with energy,” Doxsee said.
On the other side of the river, Szuflita is assisting Topsham’s town planner to complete a pedestrian survey of the downtown. She and other volunteers walk along streets to check sidewalk conditions, speed limit signs, density of traffic and other street-side details. Szuflita is using this data to make maps for the town that pinpoint less-than-safe areas requiring improvement. She is also making a series of maps to identify natural areas in the town — e.g., wetlands and streams — that are important to protect.

Szuflita grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and would one day like to work in urban planning or for an environmental nonprofit — and she wants to do this in a city. Somewhat surprisingly, she developed a love of nature in New York City by exploring its parks and roof gardens. And it is where she developed an interest in how people shape and influence natural areas.

Szuflita also appreciates the work she’s doing this summer in Topsham. “You can make a large impact as an individual in a planning office for a small town,” she noted.

To see what other Bowdoin students are up to this summer, check out this interactive map by Nina Underman ’15.

by Rebecca Goldfine

Christine Parsons ’15’s Summer Job: Helping to Cure Cancer

Christine Parsons at Slack Lab

Rising senior Christine Parsons at Slack Lab

For the second summer in a row, Christine Parsons ’15 is working at Yale University’s Slack Lab, which studies the intricately linked processes of aging, cancer and development in the model organism C. elegans. In particular, the lab’s researchers are trying to better understand microRNAs, which are tiny regulatory molecules that control gene expression and are implicated in many diseases.

Parsons has a summertime grant from Bowdoin’s Career Planning office to fund her internship. Her grant, from the Bowdoin College Alumni Council, is one of several fellowships awarded to students who want to pursue internships or projects around the world.

Bowdoin Students, Summer 2014
bowdoin mapTo see what other Bowdoin students are up to this summer, check out this interactive map by Nina Underman ’15.
When Parsons worked at the lab last summer, she experienced something new to her — “complete engagement,” she said. “Often when you do a lab in class,” she explained, “the result has already been proven, everybody knows what will happen, it’s like watching reruns. But in a lab, no one knows what will happen. It’s so exciting and so rewarding when it works out.” Parsons, a biochemistry and government and legal studies major, wants to pursue a joint MD-PhD after she graduates from Bowdoin.

These days, microRNAs, which are short non-protein-coding stretches of RNA, are a rich field for scientists seeking to study and develop treatments for a broad range of diseases. MicroRNAs can regulate gene expression by degrading messanger RNA. But not all microRNAs are salubrious — some contribute to cancer and others block it.

Last summer, Parsons helped a graduate student research the influence of microRNAs on aging. Parsons found eight microRNAs that correlated with long life. This summer, Parsons has shifted her focus to look at microRNA’s potential as a cancer treatment. At her lab bench, she’s generating an inducible expression system in breast cancer cells that will let her control whether the cells express a tumor-suppressive microRNA. Using this system, she will investigate which genes provide resistance to the microRNA.

At this research stage, certain microRNAs have been show to successfully suppress tumor growth in mice, and are currently undergoing human trials. The treatment will be tested on human cancer patients to see whether it inhibits tumor growth, Parsons explained. She said the atmosphere at the lab is exciting. “Everyone is very collaborative and really enthusiastic about what they’re doing,” she said. “We’re revealing stuff that is very important, and even though I’m doing a small part, every little bit helps.”

by Rebecca Goldfine

For Profit For Good: Environmental Studies Students Explore Biz World

Gate sun256Big business is often blamed for environmental degradation, but two students are turning to the for-profit world to fulfill their ambitions to help the environment. This summer Emi Gaal ’15 is working for an international energy corporation — one that is building renewable energy plants. And Bridgett McCoy ’15 is working for a large commercial bank, but one founded on the mission to use “finance to deliver sustainable development for unserved people, communities and the environment.”

Gaal’s employer, Enel Green Power North America, Inc., is a subsidiary of Enel, Italy’s largest power company and the second largest utility listed in Europe. Gaal is based out of a company office in Andover, Mass., that oversees more than 90 energy plants powered by hydropower, wind, geothermal energy and the sun. While she’s motivated by her environmental concern, Gaal points out that the renewable energy industry “isn’t driven by a sense of morality-driven stewardship to the earth… Rather, its backbone is purely economic. Renewable energies play on the same playing field as ‘dirty’ energy sources, like coal and gas, and they have to make it work.”

McCoy is living in Bangladesh, interning for BRAC Bank. While BRAC Bank is the country’s largest and most successful bank, it was formed by a development NGO to serve businesses too small and informal for traditional banking but too large for micro-loans. “Threatened by sea level rise and vulnerable to deforestation, any business in Bangladesh should incorporate sustainability into its operations,” McCoy said. “A financial institution like BRAC Bank, which can influence many other businesses, is in a unique position of power to be a force for good.”

Both Gaal and McCoy have grants from Career Planning’s funded internship program. Gaal received a Robert S. Goodfriend Summer Internship Fund, which encourages students to pursue internships in the business world. McCoy has the Anwarul Quadir Fellowship, awarded to a student to study Bangladesh’s economic and social progress. The College’s funded internships give students financial support to pursue internships and projects around the world.

Emi Gaal ’15, at Enel’s North American headquarters

Emi Gaal
Ever since meeting an Enel employee during her first year at Bowdoin, Gaal said she’s been determined to work for the company. “I’ve been bugging him about working for Enel, but as a freshman I had no experience,” she said. “So after two years of internships, I finally managed to show I was competent.” Last summer, she interned for the town of Bath’s planning and development department. The year before she was at Seventh Generation, a Vermont-based producer of eco-friendly household products.

Now Gaal is working for Enel’s energy management group, which is responsible for the day-to-day optimization of a portfolio of power plants and power-purchase contracts. “It’s really interesting, even though it sounds like I am just working with spreadsheets!” Gaal said. “[My supervisors] give me projects to work on that they’re working on. They’re not just funky projects that don’t matter if they get done or not.”

Gaal is also researching price correlations between electricity rates and finite energy sources, such as natural gas and coal, to keep her team abreast of price trends in the energy market. And she’s helping inform developers about newly passed Massachusetts legislation that provides financial incentives for solar projects.

Not yet halfway through her internship, Gaal is already sure she wants to work in the energy sector after she graduates. To acquire more knowledge about her future field, she plans to do an independent study next year on energy economics and modeling. “I need to know what different technologies are out there, how the pricing works, and about different market trends,” she said. 

Bridgett McCoy, right, with friends

Bridgett McCoy

Life in Bangladesh
Bridgett McCoy said that coping with begging street children has been by far the most challenging aspect of adapting to her new home. Many of the children are victims of kidnapping and violence, and McCoy has been advised not to give the children money as it’s most likely passed on to abusive adults. “I have to say no and ignore them, but becoming calloused to their misery is almost worse than the heartbreak,” she said. She’s looking for a way to volunteer with a children’s organization on the weekends.

Yet, McCoy has been impressed by many other parts of Bangladesh, particularly Bangladeshi hospitality. “My co-workers have invited me to weddings, on trips into the countryside, on tours of the city. It is truly overwhelming the kindness I receive from people I have known for only a few minutes,” she said. She attributes some of their friendliness to wanting to show her another side of their country apart from its crushing poverty. “[Westerners] don’t think of the rich literary traditions, the terraces of the tea gardens, the largest beach in the world and the largest mangrove in the word,” she said. “People don’t think of the laughter that fills the office, the high level of religious tolerance and female empowerment, and the deep but unpretentious spirituality of even the most secular seeming person.”

One of Bridgett McCoy’s current projects at BRAC Bank is figuring out why the bank’s customers — who are often very poor and illiterate — aren’t using time- and money-saving banking methods, such as ATMs or text message banking. By the end of the sumer, McCoy and another intern will write a report of their findings with recommendations. She is also working with the green banking portion of the bank — which is where her true interests lie.

The rising senior said that after graduating from Bowdoin, she’d like to work on climate change policy, perhaps for a government agency. Before then, however, she wants to gain more business experience. “Some of the most aggressive actions being taken against climate change are by businesses and institutions in the developing world,” she said. “I could see myself working for a company with a commitment to sustainable development and climate change mitigation, like Seimens or HSBC.”

Besides having to adapt to a new professional world for her, McCoy is also acclimating to a new culture, and a new climate. “It is hot, humid, rainy, and the pollution is pretty god awful,” she said. “I can’t wear shorts in the 100-plus degree weather because of cultural norms, and as someone who loves her jean cutoffs, that is actually a lot to ask!” Read the sidebar for more about McCoy’s impressions of Bangladesh, or go to her blog.

To see what other Bowdoin students are up to this summer, check out this interactive map by Nina Underman ’15.

by Rebecca Goldfine

Mentoring Middle School Girls Teaches Lessons All Around

FFLY mentors and mentees at their final meeting before summer

FFLY mentors and mentees at their final session, held at Bowdoin in mid-May, before summer break

At the final meeting of Bowdoin’s FFLY mentoring group this year, bear hugs were given, compliments shared, and ice cream and cup cakes eaten. A symbolic string bracelet was tied on the wrist of each member. Later, when a yellow school bus pulled up, the young mentees said their final goodbyes (some of them tearful) before sprinting through the rain to the bus.

FFLY, short for Fostering Female Leadership in Youth, is a student organization developed entirely by Bowdoin college students. Every Friday afternoon for the past two years, 16 female college students have traveled to the middle school in neighboring Bath to meet with 16 middle school girls. There, the older students have led one-hour group lessons before splitting up into mentor-mentee pairs for 30 minutes to talk about whatever the younger girls wanted to discuss.

“The focus is to let them talk and think things through and make them feel supported in their self-exploration,” Michelle Wiener ’14 said. Wiener and Adrienne Hanson ’14 led FFLY this year.

Bowdoin students in 2012 wanted to create a mentoring group that would match the realities of growing up in a small Maine town. “We felt very strongly that our mentees needed us less for support and more that they needed a space to explore issues that affected them,” Wiener said.

Wiener, with Zoe Eiber ’13 and Sasha Davis ’13, wrote a brand new curriculum for the weekly lessons and called their new organization FFLY. They also developed a five-week, 12.5-hour program to train college mentors to work with girls between the ages of 11 and 14. The program covers issues such as listening, motivational techniques, mental health and curriculum writing.

Each week, two of the mentors design a group discussion and activity around the lesson theme. The lessons tackle topics such as friendship, bullying (middle school girls are more likely to call it “drama”), boundary setting, body satisfaction and health. Weaved into these lessons are skill-building activities, like developing communication skills and working with a team. At the end of the year, the middle schoolers make one visit to Bowdoin to see a college campus.

One of the activities at the final sessions was to write nice things about people on pieces of paper taped to their backs.

The middle school program was so successful its first year that the Bath school administration asked the Bowdoin students to develop a similar one for high school girls. Casey Stewart ’14 designed and led the high school program; she launched a pilot version this spring with four other mentors. “Research shows that there’s a positive impact from mentoring on girls’ mental health,” said Stewart, a psychology minor and history major.

Stewart has a job next year with the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation. “FFLY helped me get my job,” she said. The foundation, based in Philadelphia, uses hockey to build character and academic skills for high-risk inner-city boys and girls.

The Bowdoin students do not miss a Friday session if they can help it, Wiener said, because continuity and consistency are important for the younger girls. “To have a place where someone older is giving them their full attention is something they don’t get a lot,” she said. “It’s something that people don’t get a lot in general!”

2013-2014 FFLY leaders Casey Stewart ’14, Michelle Wiener ’14 and Adrienne Hanson ’14. Hanson will lead FFLY next year.

At times the one-on-one conversations can be hard. Over the past year the middle school girls grappled with the suicide of a peer, self-injury and difficult family and social situations. “We ride the roller-coaster with them,” Hanson said. It helps that many of the college women — who were, after all, in middle school not so long ago— have dealt with similar issues. “Or it’s stuff we’re still dealing with!” she said. Hanson, a biology major, said FFLY has inspired her to pursue health education. Her longterm goal is to be a primary care physician.

Wiener, who is a government and legal studies/sociology major and a gender and women’s studies minor, said FFLY has been her most significant experience at Bowdoin. She is now seeking a job in youth development and empowerment. “I love working with young people,” she said. “I love the transient place they’re in and how they’re figuring out who they are and what they want. It brings into focus that so much of life is about transition and moving through things.”

by Rebecca Goldfine