Joseph McKeen
Center for the Common Good

Robbie Harrison
Class of 2014

Posted April 26, 2012

From Leominster, MA, Robbie Harrison '14 (Spanish/Education Studies) chose to spend his Pre-Orientation week doing community service in the Portland, Maine area. Committing a week to community service before the start of college quickly introduced Robbie to the McKeen Center and its various opportunities.

In his first semester, Robbie looked for more service opportunities. Adjusting to his new busy schedule, Robbie decidedly applied for Alternative Winter Break, attracted to the idea of one week of committed community service during vacation without the stress of other commitments. The program, geared towards immigrant and refugee issues in Maine, gave Robbie a new picture of the state of Maine.

His interest in immigrant and refugee populations grew, and the McKeen Center offered Robbie other opportunities to explore this curiosity. After his AWB experience, Robbie continued volunteering at Portland Adult Education, where he assisted teachers in a classroom of over twenty adult immigrants and refugees who were hoping to learn English. Robbie was humbled by their personal and physical journeys from war-torn countries to the U.S., where their conviction to do good for themselves, even after facing traumatic experiences, was strikingly clear.

His volunteer work at PAE prompted Robbie to think more broadly about language and the power it can confer on people. To the students, Robbie immediately became "teacher" in the classroom; his English language abilities had somehow elevated his stature. This experience illuminated the types of undeserved privileges that he held as a native English speaker, and prompted Robbie to find more opportunities for assisting others in their English language acquisition.

Now in his sophomore year, Robbie has continued with his volunteer work at Portland Adult Ed. He co-leads a group of volunteers through the Bowdoin Volunteer Corps, helping to arrange weekly volunteer experiences for other Bowdoin students. He also recently began tutoring two international students with their acquisition of English, focusing on grammar and pronunciation skills. Furthermore, Robbie had the opportunity to co-lead both a Pre-Orientation Trip for incoming first years, and an Alternative Winter Break trip this past January. Both service trips have focused on immigrant and refugee populations in Maine.

"Having found opportunities to volunteer with groups of people interested in language acquisition, I feel selfishly enlightened every time I give my time to helping them – as I help them learn, I am discovering new parts about myself: my background, my abilities, and my aspirations for the future."

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“In my attempts to 'serve the common good,' I try to facilitate others in their personal, academic, or social journeys. Where they want to go, I want to help them get there.”