Alex Haskins '11

Alex Haskins

Alex Haskins '11

Majors: Asian Studies, Government and Legal Studies
Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri

Why did you choose to come to Bowdoin?
I didn't know anything about Bowdoin until after I began applying to colleges. I had never visited Maine before in my life. However, an organization called QuestBridge contacted me and, through their college match process, offered me the opportunity to choose from among the best universities and liberal arts colleges in the nation. I saw Bowdoin on the list and thought to myself, "Brunswick, Maine, sounds interesting." So I wrote it on my list and a month later was accepted. I found a warm and welcoming campus when I visited during Experience Weekend. I had a good sense that I could adjust to Bowdoin life and spend the next four years here, so I decided to come.

Why did you choose your major?
I knew before coming to Bowdoin that I wanted to major in Asian studies or a related field. After studying Japanese in high school for four years, I could not imagine studying anything else. Finding my second major, on the other hand, was quite the journey. I originally wanted to double major in physics, with the goal of becoming an engineer. During my first year, I drifted from physics to computer science, computer science to math, and from math to chemistry. Yet, I still had not found something I was truly passionate about studying to complement Asian studies. During sophomore year, I resumed my journey and went from chemistry to economics, economics to art, and art to history. Finally, during my spring semester of sophomore year, I took Eros and Politics with Professor Jean Yarbrough of the government and legal studies department and it immediately clicked—government! I instantly connected with political theory and knew that this was what I had been searching for the whole time.

What has been a course you especially enjoyed at Bowdoin?
Outside of Asian studies and government courses, I especially enjoyed Professor Mohammad Tajdari's Multivariate Calculus class. In addition to clearly conveying complex topics like vectors, gradients, and multiple integrals, Professor Tajdari made the class entertaining with his humorous attitude. I never imagined I would laugh so much in a math class.

What professor or professors have especially inspired you during your time at Bowdoin?
I took Intermediate Japanese with Professor Vyjayanthi Selinger my first semester, and can honestly say that she is one of the most passionate, disciplined, and intense professors I have met. Most of the other students in the class were scared by her intensity—she spoke fluent Japanese to us on the first day, as if we were native speakers—but I was inspired to test the limits of my language ability each and every day.

Professor Jean Yarbrough, in a similar way, has inspired me to strive for something greater both in and out of the classroom. Most students would characterize her as strict, but I drew inspiration and a drive to succeed from Professor Yarbrough. She told me once when returning graded papers, "I know you can do better than this and that's why you got this grade." Rather than being disappointed, I realized that she saw potential in me and I took her up on her challenge. Ultimately, I came out of her senior seminar with one of the best grades I have ever received at Bowdoin.

Which staff members have you connected with most?
I work for Information Technology and have had the pleasure of having Mike Roux as my boss for four years. I remain amazed that he is always in a cheerful mood whenever I see him. Part of me wonders if he knows how to be sad!

Alex_Taiko.jpg
The Taiko Club performing at a Bowdoin dance show.

What extracurricular or work experiences have you had at Bowdoin?
There have been three main extracurricular activities I have been involved in for all four years. The first is Bowdoin Christian Fellowship (BCF). I joined as a somewhat disinterested first-year, but I've come to love the group because of its emphasis on community and because I can see the centrality of Jesus in everything the fellowship does. Some of my favorite activities include men's Bible study on Tuesday evenings, Thursday night gatherings, and the various speakers and events that BCF sponsors throughout the year.

I joined the Taiko Club immediately after arriving on campus, although I knew nothing about taiko before joining aside from the fact that it was Japanese and that made it automatically awesome in my book. But now I know a good deal about taiko techniques and history, and I can play a number of songs directly from memory.

I did a great deal of volunteering in high school so I knew I wanted to volunteer in some facet at Bowdoin. For reasons I can't explain, I was attracted to Food Forward, a campus organization that recovers uneaten food from the dining halls for delivery to the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program. For the past two years, I've had the opportunity to coordinate the recovery process.

Inuyama_Temple.jpg
Alex and Japanese tour guides walking through a Japanese temple.

Did you study abroad during your time at Bowdoin?
I studied abroad during my junior fall in Nagoya, Japan. It was amazing because I was able to travel to many different cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. I really enjoyed the food as well, though it was hard to adjust to a fish-, rice-, and vegetable-based diet. I can definitely see why the Japanese are so healthy!

But more personally, this was a defining moment in my life because Japan challenged me in ways I had not been challenged in America. By far the most challenging aspect of Japanese life was adjusting to speaking the language. I had a somewhat strict host mother who only spoke to me in Japanese and corrected every mistake I made. This was often emotionally frustrating, but I'm thankful for her and my experience in Japan, as I realized how much I take for granted while speaking English every day. In English, I can express myself in ways that I could not in Japanese because of my lack of vocabulary and my limited grammar.

What have you done during your summers?
For the past three summers, I have mainly worked with the Social Security Administration in St. Louis. While not the most exotic or glorious work, the experience was valuable because it helped me understand the internal organization, operation, policy, and protocol of U.S. government offices. Although I don't plan on working for the U.S. government, those summers gave me invaluable experience dealing with the general public that I hope I will take into a future career.

Ropes_Course.jpg
Alex doing a high ropes course at AYF Miniwanca.

Also, during the summers after my first and sophomore years, I attended a leadership camp sponsored by the American Youth Foundation (AYF). AYF selects students in their junior year of high school to attend camp for four summers, with programming geared toward cultivating leadership ability through various activities, seminars, and retreats. While I was there, I learned a lot about different leadership styles, group faciliation, and my own personal shortcomings. I left the AYF camp as a stronger and more patient leader, with skills that have proved invaluable at Bowdoin.

This past summer, I spent some time researching church-state issues in America for an independent study (and hopefully honors thesis) this year.

What is your favorite Bowdoin memory?
During my first year, a couple of friends and I decided to go to L.L. Bean around 2 a.m. (it's open all day and night) and we ended up missing our cab back to Bowdoin. After waiting for half an hour in the cold, we decided to just stay inside. But when our cab finally came, it already had people in it, so we had to squeeze closely together. It wasn't fun at the time, but now I can look back and laugh at the randomness of that morning.

What are your plans for after graduation?
I plan on pursuing a master's degree at a divinity school or seminary. Then I plan to earn a Ph.D. in political science and hopefully become a professor of political science, researching issues of church and state in America.

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first-year about the Bowdoin experience?
Don't chase grades. A Bowdoin education is about much more than how many A's you get on your transcript. Students here are very good at not discussing grades, promoting an atmosphere of cooperation instead of competition, but that doesn't mean people don't stress out about grades. I've seen it so much here: lost sleep, unhealthy diets, etc. I understand the pressure to do well and that it can come from many sources—parents, your own expectations, or future goals—but it's just not worth the stress. I found that when I worried less about grades, I tended to do better.

What quirky or fun thing do you wish you had known before you came to Bowdoin?
I wish I had known that the Café can put flavored syrup shots in your milkshake for no extra charge. I didn't find this out until junior year so I missed a good two years of delicious milkshakes. My personal favorite is the vanilla-hazelnut combination, though I would not recommend vanilla with a lemon-lime shot. It sounded good on paper, but I quickly realized that it was a waste of $3.

Story posted on January 14, 2011

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