Samantha CollinsSam Collins '11

Sam Collins '11 didn't know what she wanted to do when she first got to Bowdoin but she knew she was interested in a variety of activities. Through work with at the McKeen Center she realized that she was passionate about learning about the world and working on the administrative side of nonprofit organizations. She is currently the Operations and Development Director at ArtVan, a non-profit art therapy organization.

Her journey began as a double major in Romance Languages and East European/Eurasian Studies at Bowdoin. She was interested in a variety of volunteer opportunities so she immersed herself in multiple programs at the McKeen Center. She was a leader for Alternative Spring Break (she took a group of students to Georgia to work with immigrant and refugee populations), Alternative Winter Break (she worked with immigrant and refugee communities in Maine) and and a Community Immersion Orientation Trip leader. She was also on the Common Good Grant Committee and the Common Good Grant Development Committee. In her senior year she was the International Connections in Maine Fellow.

"Thinking back on it, they [the McKeen Center staff] really pushed me to think in new ways and to get exposed to issues and topics that I had never really been exposed to or passionate about before," she said, "They gave me the freedom to figure out my path."

Following her graduation in 2011 Collins moved to Chile. She had studied abroad there and felt like her journey following Bowdoin had to include an international environment like Chile. In the six months she was there Collins worked for a small startup company and taught at a local university.

"The actual experience of teaching was amazing but I also realized through that that I wanted to pursue a degree in international development and go back to refugee and immigrant populations."

After living abroad she decided to move back to Maine to work as a Volunteer Coordinator at Portland Adult Education. She then went to Emory University to get her Master's Degree in Development Practice. As part of the program she spent one year working in Atlanta at a grassroots alternative refugee radio station and the second year with the International Rescue Committee as a Case Work Intern. As a Case Work Intern she worked with recently arrived immigrants.

Also part of the program she spent a summer in India working with Care International on a migrant HIV prevention program. The second summer she worked in a small town in Asunción Paraguay assessing the barrier to a university degree for the residents.

It was after this, in July 2014, that she was hired at ArtVan as the Operations and Development Director.

"Basically I do all the work that is not related to art therapy." Collins handles the financial management, grant writing, board development, strategic planning and fundraising aspects of the organization.

"What I like about my job is that on any given day I'm doing a number of different tasks and there is a lot of variety. There is also a lot of spontaneity and creativity," she said.

ArtVan is an art therapy program that is geared towards youth with limited access to art in the Bath, Brunswick, Lewiston and Auburn, Maine area. Through art, the program allows youth express themselves in a productive and healthy manner.

"Art therapy is the same principle as talk therapy except you don't need words or language to express what you're feeling," said Collins, "We present art as a tool for the youth to work through their problems and become more self confident and have a safe space to explore."

Bowdoin partners heavily with ArtVan throughout the summer and school year. This past summer two Bowdoin students volunteered at ArtVan for the Community Matters in Maine Fellowship. Incoming first years students also volunteered at ArtVan as part of their orientation trips. Throughout the school year students volunteer at ArtVan through a variety of programs including Common Good Day.

"There are a lot of unexpected twists and turns and you have to just trust the process," said Collins about nonprofit work, "You must have patience for the process as well. Nonprofits are such interesting institutions and they have so many layers. It's great to be part of something that is a challenge every day when you go to work."