At the opening of Bowdoin College in 1802, President Joseph McKeen declared that
…literary institutions are founded and endowed for the common good, and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education. It is not that they may be enabled to pass through life in an easy or reputable manner, but that their mental powers may be cultivated and improved for the benefit of society. If it be true, that no man should live to himself, we may safely assert, that every man who has been aided by a public institution to acquire an education, and to qualify himself for usefulness, is under peculiar obligations to exert his talents for the public good.
Encouraging students to live up to McKeen’s vision is a central mission of the College as a whole, and the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good provides opportunities for students to discover the ways in which their unique talents, passions, and academic pursuits can be used for the “benefit of society” through public engagement.
Although housed in Banister Hall, the McKeen Center supports work that takes place across the campus, in local communities, and at selected locations around the world. The Center assists student-led volunteer organizations that provide service to the local community through activities such as mentoring, tutoring, visiting with senior citizens, serving meals at the local homeless shelter, and working with immigrant populations in nearby Portland. Fostering student initiative and leadership, the Center provides opportunities for students to propose and lead alternative spring break trips that connect their peers with community organizations to address public issues in places ranging from New York City to rural Mississippi, and from Northern Maine to Guatemala. The McKeen Center also encourages students to reflect upon their public engagement and connect these experiences to curricular and vocational interests.
In coordination with other departments, the Center administers summer fellowships for students interested in non-profit internships and provides grants for international service. It assists students in finding community partners with whom to engage in community-connected independent research and honors projects and helps identify courses at the College that provide context for the issues students address through their community work. The McKeen Center supports faculty in developing and teaching community-based courses that take students out of the classroom to conduct interviews, record oral histories, develop curriculum for schools, and collect scientific data in conjunction with community partners.
The Center also encourages and helps sponsor campus-wide events that challenge students, faculty, and staff to examine the varied meanings of public service and the “common good.” These events include the Seeking the Common Good Series of lectures and symposia, and Common Good Day, a traditional day of service that introduces the Bowdoin community to the local community each fall.