Claire Cooper '09

Claire Cooper '09

Majors: Religion and Government & Legal Studies
Hometown: Waccabuc, New York/New Milford, Connecticut

Why did you choose to come to Bowdoin?
I was looking for a small school where I would be surrounded by people who shared my enthusiasm for learning and activism, but who came from diverse backgrounds as well. I also wanted a balanced experience, where I could take school seriously and have opportunities for activities outside of the classroom. Bowdoin is exactly that place. I made a couple of visits as a prospective student, and during each visit I was impressed by the genuine friendliness and energy of Bowdoin students. In one class I sat in on, I was blown away by the students' commitment to the class as well as the professor's approach to teaching; he engaged his class and seemed genuinely interested in teaching. Coming from a high school where only a portion of people in each class were actually committed students, it was incredible to sit in a classroom where everyone was invested in the course.

Why did you choose your major?
I have a double major in Religion and Government and Legal Studies with a concentration in Political Theory. I always knew I wanted to explore the government department at Bowdoin, yet was never sure what to concentrate in. Out of curiosity, as a sophomore I enrolled in American Political Thought with Professor Jean Yarbrough, which to this day remains one of my best academic experiences. Professor Yarbrough's passion is contagious, and I have since taken three classes with her. I am currently in a fascinating Nietzsche seminar, which has been a great way to end my college experience. As for my Religion major, I stumbled upon the religion department when I needed a fourth class my first year. I took Religion 101 with Professor Jorunn Buckley, and since then, I have been constantly fascinated, challenged and enriched by the courses offered in that department. Because religion classes tend to be smaller, classes are particularly discussion-based, and involve a deep level of analysis and critical thinking.

What has been a course you especially enjoyed at Bowdoin?
I have really had many amazing courses both within and outside of my majors. My junior spring I took an advanced political theory seminar on Tocqueville with Professor Yarbrough, and had the absolute pleasure of reading all of Democracy in America for a semester. Democracy in America is an incredible book, and there is something really valuable about studying one thinker for an entire semester. Another course that really stands out is Staging Blackness, an English course with Guy Mark Foster, which I took as an elective upon returning from my semester abroad. We read a number of short stories and plays by African American authors in the 19th and 20th centuries, and examined the cultural and political forces that impacted those works.

What professor or professors have especially inspired you during your time at Bowdoin?
What is exceptional about Bowdoin is that I can think of more than a handful of professors that have "especially inspired" me. Although I formally have two advisors, I would count about five professors as my "advisors" in the sense that I have cultivated wonderful academic and personal relationships with them. Professor Foster in the English department has been a favorite of mine because of his brilliance and because of his terrific class conversations. Professor Paul Franco in the government department has a similar gift for managing classroom discussion. I account for Professor Elizabeth Pritchard in the religion department helping me grow the most intellectually, because she is incredibly challenging, but will work constantly with students to help them reach their potential. I have spent hours in her office trying to work my thoughts into coherency, and she makes herself constantly available and is more than happy to assist students in developing their writing and ideas. Professors Yarbrough, Buckley, and Henry Laurence in government have also been influential.

What extracurricular or work experiences have you had at Bowdoin?
I have been heavily involved in the Bowdoin College Democrats since my first year, and served as co-president through this historic fall campaign season. I have been a member of V-Day for three years, which produces The Vagina Monologues, and raises awareness and promotes activism about sexual violence. This spring I am on the publicity/recruitment committee for the Bowdoin College Relay for Life, a fundraising event for the American Cancer Society, which has been very successful at this campus. I worked as programming chair for Baxter House during my sophomore year, and really enjoyed being involved in the College House system through living in Baxter. I think the College House system reflects how Bowdoin is a place that can be remade and crafted by students, and shows the extent to which our input at this school matters. I have also been an Admissions tour guide all four years, and been involved with various community service projects.

I have been employed during all four years of college. I spent my first two years working in Dining Service, which was a great experience. Bowdoin would not be the same place without the amazing dining staff we have. I was also an America Reads and Counts tutor to fourth graders in Brunswick for two years. I am currently working as an office assistant in the religion department, where I have gotten to know my religion professors even better, and have honed my photocopying skills.

Did you study abroad during your time at Bowdoin?
I spent a semester abroad in Budapest, Hungary, during the fall of my junior year. I chose that program because I wanted to be in a city that was not overrun with American students studying abroad, and because I was seeking an academically focused abroad experience. I directly enrolled in Central European University, a graduate school that draws students mostly from Central and Eastern Europe. The most valuable part of my semester abroad was cultivating friendships with students from Europe, while learning about the culture and history of the regions where they lived. Although I did not go to Budapest with a particular interest in Central and Eastern European culture and history, I couldn't have been happier with my ability to travel and get to know the region. It was a great way to continue studying many of the themes I explored in my majors at Bowdoin, but in an entirely different context.

What have you done during your summers?
My first two summers were not particularly notable, but this past summer was the best yet. I was a full-time intern on a Maine Senate campaign, lived in Brunswick, and worked in Portland. Bowdoin is a very different, but very fun place to be over the summer. I had an amazing work experience on the campaign during an exciting season to be involved in politics, and the experience demonstrated that politics is an area I hope to pursue. Getting to know Maine better was quite enjoyable, both by living here and by learning about some important local issues. At this point, Bowdoin/Brunswick feels more like home to me than any other place.

What is your best Bowdoin memory?
It is hard to think of one moment in particular, but I feel that one of my happiest times at Bowdoin was during the first week of senior year, when everyone was back from being abroad during different semesters in different places. Everyone was just so excited to be together again, and it was great to reconnect and hear about how the past year had gone. It reminded me of how special the Bowdoin community is, and how lucky I am to have the friends here who will continue to be part of my life.

What are your plans for after graduation?
Although nothing is certain, I hope to be living and working in Washington, D.C., for a few years after graduating. My campaign work this summer and fall confirmed for me that I really enjoy working in politics and policy, and interacting with as many people as possible. I think D.C. is an exciting place to be now, and I want to be right in the middle of it.

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first-year about the Bowdoin experience?
Bowdoin is an incredible place, but it requires initiative. There are tons of opportunities, but they don't come to you: you must be pro-active in exploring everything the College has to offer. Try to do new and different things, because it keeps the Bowdoin bubble from getting too small. Although the design of classes is conducive to getting to know your professors, it is really important to take advantage of office hours and to get to know professors personally, not just academically. Those relationships are nearly as important and valuable as the friends you make here.

What quirky or fun thing did you wish you knew before you came to Bowdoin?
The existence of Super Snack [late-night snacks at Thorne Dining Hall], and the celebrity status of Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols: great, great guy.

Story posted on February 27, 2009

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