Casey Philipsborn '05

Casey Philipsborn

Casey Philipsborn '05

Hometown: Evanston, Illinois
Major: English and Environmental Studies, with a minor in Education

Why did you come to Bowdoin?
I knew I wanted a small school, a liberal arts school, and a well-known, good school. I went on a tour of schools with my mom in the New England area and Bowdoin had the education and it had the environmental stuff, so it definitely had some things I really wanted. I got a really good feeling walking around the campus.

How did you decide on your major?
I think I decided on Environmental Studies more towards the beginning. I absolutely love working outside and being outside and I feel like it's a large part of who I am, so learning about the environment and how to improve our interactions with it is really important to me.

Originally I was going to do ES and Sociology, but when I decided to get certified to teach, I had to pick a core subject that I wanted to get certified in because I can't teach either environmental studies or sociology in a high school. So I decided that English was a subject that I could really use flexibly to engage students, in that it's an empowering subject. You learn how to read, you learn how to write, you learn how to use words in a powerful way, and that's such a self-enhancing, confidence-building tool to have. I felt like it was the subject that I would best be able to work with and that would incorporate everything that I feel is important, including multiculturalism and environmental studies. So that's how English came in.

Most colleges don't offer [teaching certification] within the four years, so, one, [teaching certification] was a great opportunity. Two, the Education Department here is phenomenal, and I wouldn't pass up a day that I could take advantage of it. And I do want to teach. I love working with kids and I feel very strongly about working in the public school system, and so I thought I'd take advantage of [the opportunity to be certified].

What has been your favorite class at Bowdoin?
[Assistant Professor of History and Environmental Studies] Matt Klingle's Environment, Culture, and the Human Experience was absolutely amazing. We had the most heated conversations that were so personally touching. It was wonderful because we talked about human interactions with the environment and the environment's interactions with us - it made you think a lot.

I love [Associate Professor of English] Liz Muther. I've taken a bunch of her African American literature classes. She's such an excited teacher. I loved African American Poetry. We read great things and had wonderful discussions. The classes bring a more diverse population than you get in some other classes, so that was nice.

Student teaching, I think, has been my favorite class. I've been teaching at Morse High School in Bath. I was teaching two freshmen heterogeneous English classes - so they're not tracked - and one sophomore honors English class. Every day since January 3rd, Monday through Friday, I got up at five o'clock in the morning and I was driving out of my driveway no later than seven o'clock. I had a prep period, which means I got ready for all three classes that I was going to teach that day. I could have taught the same lessons to both freshmen classes, but I taught completely different things to both of them. They were such different classes - I really couldn't see teaching them the same thing. So I had a class from 8:30-9:30 a.m., there's a little break, and I had another class from 9:45-10:40 a.m. - those were the sophomores - and then they have lunch at 10:40 in the morning. And then I had my third class from 11:10 a.m.-12:05 p.m.

What happens in student teaching is that you have a cooperating teacher - somebody you're assigned to. You observe [the teacher] all [the previous] semester, and you teach occasionally. I would teach one or two classes and then I took three classes a week and then, two weeks before winter break, when I was still supposed to be observing, I was teaching full time! It was awesome.

It's weird sometimes because you question whether or not you have the authority to be making the types of decisions you make. You're trying so hard to engage [the students] and provide them with good knowledge, and to have nobody there [saying], "You should try this," or "You should definitely make sure they get this," or have it only be a side comment once in a while - I'd say it's kind of jarring. Not scary. But it adds pressure. But I was so thankful to have the class to myself. It really gave me the freedom to [say], "This is my classroom." And I really felt like it was by the time that I left.

Have you done any independent studies?
I've been doing independent studies all the while because my major is self-designed. For the ES major, you have to take ten courses, but because it's a coordinate major, three of the classes overlap with your other major [which becomes your ES concentration]. None of the ES classes cross-list for English, so I decided to self-design my concentration in environmental education.

So I taught environmental education at Longfellow Elementary sophomore year, and that was one of my favorite courses. It was a double independent study because it spanned both semesters. One semester focused very much on curriculum and the other focused on researching urban environmental education. So a lot of my independent study aims have been towards how to better implement ideas of environmental education and place-based education in urban curriculums and urban high schools.

Right now I'm doing an independent study on place-based education, and it's wonderful. It's with [Visiting Assistant Professor of History] Connie Chiang. Place-based education is when you make your curriculum interdisciplinary and then, using the curriculum - using what you need to teach the kids according to standards or whatever - you base these projects off of what the community needs. So you get these partnerships between the community and school, with the community using the students as resources.

So you can take an example like the city of Brunswick. It wants a train station in town because trains are now coming to Maine, and the city planning office is working on planning an actual train station. They're a little crunched for time and money, so you get the high school students involved. In their math class they're drawing out models and then deciding, to-scale, how big they would be, so they're working on ratios, too. Then you have the history class looking a little bit into the history of the rails in Maine, but also, if we're doing U.S. history, we look at the history of the transcontinental railroad. Your English class is working on writing for public speaking and you're reading literature about something that connects to it. And language classes are working on translating into French because there's a large French population in Brunswick. It becomes a very engaging way for students to learn because they feel like they have a purpose to their education, and when the community starts looking to them for ideas, it's very empowering.

What extracurricular activities do you participate in? Do you have an on campus job?
I did Leadership Training [with the Bowdoin Outing Club] my freshman year, so I've been a BOC leader all four years. I've done the backpacking, sea kayaking, rock climbing. And I work in the Outing Club.

I've played in the Bowdoin Brass Quintet all four years. I play the trumpet. So that's been really fun. The Bowdoin choirs need orchestras occasionally, so I play in those. I love doing the music thing. I've played in the musicals - I played in Hair freshman year! And in Into the Woods.

I've tutored high school kids on campus all four years - a lot in math, and then in English, as well.

Have you studied abroad during your time at Bowdoin?
I went to New Zealand. It was the greatest decision of my life. It was wonderful. I took two undergraduate English classes and a graduate-level environmental science class. And then I taught in an elementary school. I was in Dunedin on the south island at the University of Otago. I hiked as frequently as possible when I was there.

What is your best Bowdoin memory?
I think I'll always remember the tree houses that were out on the Quad ["Simple Pleasures," an installation by Patrick Dougherty]. They were natural art made from sticks that were molded into houses. Those were great. I loved them.

I took a class over spring break my junior year - it was a half-credit education class. There have been some semesters when I've been here because I'm a triple major, basically. So I took Urban and Rural Education. We went to Dorchester, Massachusetts, outside of Boston, for our urban education experience, and stayed at an Episcopal school for low-income kids. But it was one of the wealthiest schools I've ever been in because it was privately funded. That was quite an experience and I will always remember it. And then from there we went to rural Maine to island schools and to a different, really rural school.

And then this year, Bowdoin Friends invited student teachers over for dinner, and one of our dinners was one of the swankiest things! The [Association of] Bowdoin Friends will always be in my memory.

What are your plans after graduation?
I've worked for a small non-profit for the past four years over the summer. It takes inner city D.C. kids out to Wyoming or Montana for three weeks at a time, so I'm working for them again this summer. I'm thoroughly attached to [kids I work with]. I love them all dearly and I cannot seem to get away from [the program].

And then I'm applying to work in small public schools. I have my eye set on the Bay Area, and I'm looking at a bunch of schools in Oakland. I'm looking for an urban environment that is near a natural environment [because] I really like working with urban populations of kids, and I need mountains to play in.

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first year about the Bowdoin experience?
I would say, right off the bat, if you want to do something with your education here, make sure you voice that to people, and make sure it happens, because if you want something, there are ways of getting it. Even though you might get resistance, it is well worth it to work for it because it's an amazing experience to be able to get the education that you want out of Bowdoin. I think if you don't try for it, then you can easily go by these four years and not get all that you wanted out of the school, and I think that would be a shame.

Story posted on May 17, 2005

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