Alex Cornell du Houx
Alex Cornell du Houx
Hometown: Solon, Maine
Major: Government, Minor: Theater
Why did you choose to come to Bowdoin?
I first learned of Bowdoin when my family took trips to visit Brunswick and the Maine coast. I loved the campus and after learning more about Bowdoin through the Upward Bound program I knew I wanted to spend my next four years there. No one from my high school had ever attended Bowdoin and growing up in an area where 80 percent of the population does not have any form of higher education creates an atmosphere where its hard to imagine attending a place such as Bowdoin. However, I learned about the Mitchell Institute (a scholarship program founded by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, Bowdoin class of 1954) and realized that Bowdoin provides millions of dollars in financial aid. I can't imagine choosing a better place to earn my undergraduate degree.
Bowdoin's sense of community and strong connection between students, staff and professors also drew me to the college. The fact that we get to know our professors and that it's not uncommon for students to have dinner at their house or keep in contact beyond our time at Bowdoin shows that many of our professors are truly dedicated to helping us prepare us for the adventures and challenges beyond Bowdoin.
Why did you choose your major?
Originally I came to Bowdoin interested primarily in astronomy; however, after a semester scrambling my way though astrophysics classes I decided to take some government and history classes and really enjoyed them. At the same time I was working with many community service programs that ranged from tutoring to Habitat for Humanity, and I started to investigate why some of the issues we were attempting to solve seemed endless. I realized that in order to more effectively solve the issues we were working on it's important to focus on both the immediate need and longer-term policy and legislative solutions. For instance, service programs such as Habitat for Humanity and homeless shelters are extremely important in their ability to care for individuals who have an immediate need to find a place for their family; even so, the problem of homelessness will continue unless the source of the issue is addressed. Policies that help reduce homelessness, such as quality education, health care, a living wage, child tax credits, and Chapter Eight housing, require legislative work and policy development. By learning that direct community service and political service are equally important to solving issues facing our society today, I became much more interested in learning how public policy affected the programs I was working with.
What has been a course you especially enjoyed at Bowdoin?
There are so many great classes that it's so hard to decide — in fact as I finish my education at Bowdoin it is so hard to choose my last set of classes because there are so many quality classes that I want to explore. However, Race and American Political Development was vital in highlighting issues of race as one of the driving political factors in American politics. Foundations of Indian History was a great experience in learning about how the history of southern Asia has shaped the surrounding area.
One of the Bowdoin's great qualities is its liberal arts education, which enables us to explore different subjects and try something new. I still really enjoy watching the starry night, but also found a passion for government and history classes. During my last year I became involved in the theater department and finished with a theater minor. Overall, these classes helped me to see many issues from different perspectives and have given me the drive to continue exploring and learning.
What professor or professors have especially inspired you during your time at Bowdoin?
I could not recap my Bowdoin experience without mentioning professors Paul Franco, Michael Franz and Mingus Mapps. They have been an inspiration and helped deepen my interest in political philosophy, policy and race in politics. Whenever I had a question, needed advice or simply wanted to chat over a hockey game they have been tremendously helpful and supportive over my Bowdoin career. I also could not finish without thanking professors Davis Robinson and Sonja Moser for their advice and dedication as I explored the theater department.
Have you engaged in any independent research while at Bowdoin?
I spent the last year working on an honors project that examined the perceived divide students have between community and political service through a historical examination of past political and civic connections and by examining a number of surveys conducted nationally and across the state of Maine. The major theoretical question explored in the paper was whether or not young adults, specifically students, perceive a connection between political service and community service in solving issues facing one's community. I found that although most scholars believe political activity is a service to one's community, most college-age youths do not see this connection.
What extracurricular or work experiences have you had at Bowdoin?
I've been involved in a number of organizations and jobs at Bowdoin that have helped me learn a good deal, from effective teaching methods to working with service groups in Guatemala. My first introduction to Bowdoin was the inaugural community service pre-orientation trip where we learned about the Midcoast community through local service programs. Lydia Bell, the former director of the Community Service Resource Center (and member of the class of 2000) invited me to a Habitat for Humanity breakfast the next day and I became involved in helping build the Bowdoin sponsored house with the local Habitat chapter.
I continued to work with the CSRC and helped found the community service council, which brings Bowdoin's student-run volunteer organizations together. I also had the opportunity to attend an alternative spring break service trip to Peru where we built a playground for the local community. The next spring, I helped lead a service trip to Guatemala with the Safe Passage program, which was founded by Hanley Denning, class of 1992, to help kids move from the Guatemala city dump into the classroom. Both of these were eye-opening experiences that helped me learn about the area and broadened my perspective.
I've worked with the America Counts and Reads program where Bowdoin students help tutor in the local Maine schools. This was a great experience, which helped me realize I really enjoy teaching. Not much can compare with the joy of a student who has been frustrated with an equation or sentence and seeing their face light up as they understand the problem. By volunteering in different schools I was able to see how the economic differences in each community affected the schools. Although the Brunswick school system is fortunate to have a relatively new high school, Durham students have to learn in trailers parked behind the school.
I'm also currently working with the Legislative Youth Advisory Commission where we are working on legislative issues that affect young adults. For instance, we are planning to submit a bill to the Maine Legislature to allow students to register to vote when they apply for a driver's license at the age of 16 to encourage youth to become more civically engaged. Previously, I worked with AdCare Educational Institute of Maine to create, examine and lobby for policies from the youth perspective. We also worked on a statewide survey that examined alcohol advertising, and some of the policies developed were adopted by the Maine Legislature. I'm also working with Mitchell Institute, which was extremely helpful in my attending college, and I'm happy to be working on their alumni council.
Toward the end of my sophomore year I became increasingly engaged in the College Democrats and during the 2004 election we were successful in registering most of the campus regardless of political party. On Election Day, 93 percent of the campus voted. I then had the opportunity to become involved with the College Democrats of America where I learned a great deal about organizing campaigns nationally and helped fight a bill that prevented students from voting at their campuses.
I also have a passion for photography (please visit my Web site at www.acornell.com) and enjoy working for the Bowdoin Bugle yearbook and The Bowdoin Orient newspaper, covering campus events, and weddings, sports and stories for a local paper, The Forecaster. I hope to continue taking photos after I graduate.
I've also been engaged with student government and worked as the VP of student affairs, which gave me the opportunity to work with students and get to know many of the wonderful staff members that help run the campus.
My experience working for residential life and alumni relations was also great and I'm looking forward to working with them in the future. I will also never forget the great memories on the soccer team, running track, organizing at the Bowdon Women's Association meetings, and filming in the Bowdoin Cable Network studio.
Did you study abroad during your time at Bowdoin?
I did not have the opportunity to study abroad and would love to immerse myself in a different culture. However, because my semesters were broken up with training in the marines and being deployed to Iraq for a year, I did not have this opportunity. Spending some time in a foreign environment really provides a new perspective and is an excellent way to truly learn the area's history, culture, and community.
What have you done during your summers?
My first summer at Bowdoin was spent training with the marines in South Carolina for 13 weeks, followed by spending the rest of the semester training in North Carolina at the school of infantry. Through the Mitchell Institute's Career Opportunity Service Award program, I had the opportunity to spend a summer working for the governor's office in Maine and spent the next summer working at the governor's Office of Health Policy and Finance helping the Dirigo Heath program, which aims to provide health insurance to every citizen of Maine. This past summer I worked at the Center for American Progress and Democratic National Committee with the College Democrats and spent the rest of the summer working at the Bowdoin Organic Garden.
What is your best Bowdoin memory?
One of the most memorable and relaxing times I experienced at Bowdoin was our weeklong whitewater canoe leadership-training trip with the Outing Club. Maine is such a beautiful state and my experience on the river, beach or trail was a great time to step back and relax with my friends.
I will never forget the moment when I returned from Iraq and our bus pulled into the base to be greeted by my family and friends. The Bowdoin community was tremendously supportive while I was deployed and am grateful for everyone's messages, packages, and support.
There are so many great memories to recount, whether it was finishing a Habitat house, playing games at the local café or enjoying pizza and company on the 15th floor of Coles Tower, I can't finish without mentioning the great times I had enjoying the nights at Baxter and Seadogs. I'll also never forget the fun times talking or listening to the radio as we drove around Maine or my time at Cleveland Street with my roommate and friends building snowpeople, making dinner and enjoying each other's company.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I know I want to pursue a master's in public policy in the future, but currently I will continue to be engaged in the community, and whether I focus on education, policy, or photography I'll look forward to the challenges and exciting times ahead.
What advice would you give to a prospective student or first-year about the Bowdoin experience?
The academics at Bowdoin are very fulfilling, but I'd also encourage any first-year student to explore beyond the Bowdoin bubble and become involved in the campus and community. There are more than 90 clubs and organizations that range from service programs to martial arts and new clubs are being created each semester. Explore a few organizations and after a semester or year you can focus on the programs you're passionate about. However, as life become crazy, it's great to step back, relax for a moment and enjoy the Quad.
Bowdoin's sense of community compared to many other colleges and universities drew me to the college. While this may not be immediately apparent to prospective students, wherever I travel in the world I've come across a Bowdoin connection or alum who will go out of their way to meet and help fellow polar bears.
Story posted on January 17, 2008
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