Joseph McKeen
Center for the Common Good

Lydia Bell
Class of 2000

Posted March 04, 2014

As a student, Lydia was involved in many things on campus – chamber choir, Miscellania, Campus Activities Board, and America Reads. Started by President Clinton in 1997, America Reads was designed as a national literacy campaign that would provide Federal Work Study wages to students tutoring in local schools. Lydia was one of the initial groups of tutors at Bowdoin and, during her sophomore year, took on the additional responsibility of helping the Bowdoin Education Department coordinate schedules, teachers’ needs, and program evaluations.

During the spring semester of her senior year, Lydia saw a digest post advertising an AmeriCorps position at Bowdoin to work with Peggy Schick in Communications to coordinate community service activities on campus, including Common Good Day and the America Reads and Counts program. In addition to the increasing demands on Peggy's time, fraternities, which had provided leadership for several community service programs, had ended their presence on campus, so there was a need for an on-campus position to coordinate community service activities. Lydia was hired into the position and worked in a cubicle in McLellan during her first year.

After the conclusion of the AmeriCorps year, Bowdoin made Lydia's position a full-time staff position. As Lydia notes, "Bowdoin supported me in many ways during that first year – through mentorship and support – but that second year, the support became more tangible, [as my position] was added as a budget item." That second year also saw a move to the first floor of Coles Tower, where Lydia worked alongside Keisha Payson, now Sustainability Coordinator at the college. The new location on campus was great, as students were able to come in and out more easily and the location near Keisha allowed students to be more easily involved with both offices. There was a lot of overlap in the students involved and the mutual support was important to the success of both programs. Lydia stayed a third year, which saw a growth in programs – as well as an official Community Service Resource Center sign!

Leaving Bowdoin, Lydia knew she wanted to remain involved in student affairs, so went to pursue a masters in higher education and student affairs at the University of Arizona. Her first year, suddenly on a campus with 30,000 undergraduate students and high-profile student athletes, she became interested in research around student-athletes. She saw the D1 athletes unable to blend in in class and in the community – always under high visibility and scrutiny, treated as gods by some and combating dumb jock stereotypes from others. Their time was planned and structured by teams of people and faculty impressions of the athletes varied. This interest ended up morphing into a PhD in Language, Reading, and Culture and Lydia looked at sports as a culture and its intersections with education. While pursuing her PhD, Lydia began working as a TA for a mentoring program called SOAR (Student Outreach for Access and Resiliency), which included a course on issues of access to higher education (including family support, school preparation, economic background, etc.). The course included a service-learning component of mentoring middle school students at eight under-resourced public schools in Tucson, Arizona, where at least 70% of students qualified for free & reduced lunch, and a majority of students (80%+) were Latino. More than 75 undergrads were involved in SOAR each semester. After finishing her PhD, Lydia was hired as a postdoc research assistant for SOAR and, in addition to teaching and conducting research, found herself coordinating all schedules and working with the schools, skills she had honed during her time at Bowdoin.

After becoming an assistant professor of practice, Lydia took a job as the Associate Director of Research at the NCAA in May 2013, which provided her the opportunity to engage completely in the research that she’s really passionate about. The number of surveys conducted across divisions and sports provides gigantic data sets, with a wealth of information. At an NCAA conference in January, she gave four presentations on student-athlete social environments and how students are engaging with campus and the community. The work excites her, as data gathered just a year before can shape the conversation and work to influence policy changes for current NCAA student-athletes. The opportunity to improve and use her quantitative research skills, skills she mentioned she first learned in Nancy Riley’s class at Bowdoin, has been an exciting challenge. She is also the point person in the NCAA Research department for coordinating a large grant that will provide funds for various scholars and practitioners to look at student-athletes' well-being and mental health.

Through her time at Bowdoin and beyond, Lydia has been drawn to working with communities. In this new chapter, she relishes the opportunity and is thankful for the "great mentors, who are pushing and encouraging" her along the way.

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Fourteen years ago, Lydia Bell '00 accepted an AmeriCorps position at Bowdoin right after graduating that would lay the groundwork for the Community Service Resource Center in 2001 and the McKeen Center in 2008. Over winter break, Caitlin Callahan '11 had the opportunity to talk with Lydia about her path at Bowdoin, her work in the early years of the CSRC, and her path since.