Celebrating Campus-Community Collaborations: A Symposium of Academic Work in the Local Community

Story posted December 16, 2008

Freezing rain and a power outage didn't stop students in community-based courses from gathering in Main Lounge December 12, 2008, the last day of the semester, to celebrate campus-community collaborations, at a symposium that highlighted their academic work completed in the local community.

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Throughout the afternoon nearly 100 students, faculty, staff and community members stopped in from the weather for a cup of hot cocoa and a chance to peruse posters, presentations and displays that illuminated what students had done and learned through 10 courses and independent study projects that addressed community interests while applying what they were learning in real life settings.

"I signed up for this course because it looked fun," said Catherine Rountree, a first-year student from New York.

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Connor Gallagher '12 and Catherine Rountree '12 stand in front of a display describing their research.

"I'm not a science person, but when I went to the academic fair at the beginning of the year, the professor described what we would be doing in the course and it sounded interesting. The community connection element was important to me, too."

Rountree and her classmate, Connor Gallagher '12, worked together to examine the sediment composition of Harpswell Sound by gathering and analyzing samples from a sediment trap near the Bowdoin Buoy Facility through Environmental Marine Geology — one of the longest running community-based courses at Bowdoin.

For the past nine years students working with Associate Professor of Geology Ed Laine and Lab Instructor Cathryn Field have been gathering data for the Friends of Casco Bay, a non-profit organization that works to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay through advocacy, education, collaborative partnerships and water quality monitoring.

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Ed Laine and Cathryn Field from the Geology Department

Gallagher said he, too, knew the course had a component that put students out in the community. "Getting to do field work, outside, on a boat in Maine?" he said. "Of course I signed up." In the process he learned geological sampling techniques and contributed to a better understanding of red tides in Casco Bay.

Across the room, students from Craig McEwen's Maine Social Research course answered questions about the research they completed for the Brunswick Housing Authority and Oasis Health Network. The surveys they designed to conduct interviews with local residents are part of a longer-term collaborative study being undertaken by Bowdoin students and faculty.

Interested in understanding the support networks and housing aspirations of public housing residents and the impact that free health care has on individuals living without health insurance, these students are gathering data to aid the organizations' efforts to understand better the life situations of those they serve. Both sets of interviews also yielded ideas and suggestions for the partner organizations.

Earlier in the afternoon, students and McEwen met with Oasis founder Peter McGuire '62. Over sandwiches, the group discussed the challenges of running a free health clinic and not having access to health insurance. Several students noted that in addition to gathering information, they felt an important way they had contributed to the project was simply in listening to the struggles of the people they interviewed, many of whom had few confidants with whom to share stories.

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Director of Student Fellowships and Research Cindy Stocks (left) listens as Nick Cohen 09 (middle) and Sarah Ebel 10 (right) share their projects completed with the town of Lisbon.

Nick Cohen '09 and Sarah Ebel '10 crowded around a laptop with several staff and other students to explain their work completed with the town of Lisbon in Environmental Policy and Politics taught by DeWitt John.

Learning about the management and regulation of the environment at national and local levels, their community-based projects focused on perceptions and use of the Androscoggin River.

"As a senior, I now realize what I can and cannot do in a semester," said Cohen. "Back when I was a sophomore, I had a misconception of what I could accomplish for an organization."

The goal of his project this semester was to research the development of a trail system along the river that would connect all three areas of Lisbon. Working with the town, John and Environmental Studies Program Manager Eileen Johnson, they decided to focus on analyzing the current trail system as a way to garner further support for the whole trail. "Last summer when I was working as a summer fellow with the town of Brunswick, I read through a series of reports and publications as an orientation to the office," said Cohen.

"One thing in the packet was a project completed by Bowdoin students from a community-based course! That really helped me see how our work is used and how each project is part of a larger one. What we do now will be picked up and moved forward later by other students."

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Emiliegh Mercer 09 and Kristina Ng 09 from Craig McEwen's Maine Social Research Class

Cohen and Ebel were also in Associate Professor of Biology John Lichter's Ecology of Merrymeeting Bay course, in which they collected data on anadromous fish in Merrymeeting Bay.

Earlier in the week they presented their results to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, The Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Friends of Merrymeeting Bay and the Kennebec Estuary Collaborative among other organizations with the goal of contributing to an ecological status report of the Bay.

"We presented our work to these groups in Cram Alumni House and there was a great turnout," explained Ebel. "I really like these classes that give back to the community. I also feel like we know Maine much more now."

In addition to these projects, students spread out around midcoast Maine to work with organizations. In Associate Professor of Geology Peter Lea's course Watershed Hydrology, students investigated flow dynamics in the Androscoggin Lake and Dead River watersheds.

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David Yee 09 and Visiting Fellow Ken Templeton

In the Education Department's Teaching and Curriculum courses taught by Assistant Professor Chuck Dorn and Visiting Fellow Ken Templeton, students paired up with high school juniors from the island school on Vinalhaven for a reciprocal exchange.

In Architectural Design, Visiting Assistant Professor Wiebke Theodore continued her collaboration with the Brunswick Housing Authority to use the pre-design process as a way for students to employ theories of design to develop multiple ideas for the renovation of Woodlawn Terrace, BHA's senior housing located in the high-rise across the river from the SeaDog Restaurant.

In partnership with these local agencies, students in community-based courses apply the knowledge and analytical skills they learn in the classroom to address environmental, social and cultural issues in the community.

As students expand their understanding of a subject or issue, they also work to foster mutually beneficial ties between the campus and community by sharing their research results with local organizations in an exchange that further informs classroom learning while addressing community needs.

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