Dana Borowitz '08

Dana Borowitz

Dana Borowitz '08

Major: History, Minor: Film Studies
Hometown: Briarcliff Manor, New York

Why did you choose to come to Bowdoin?
People rarely believe this, but Joshua Chamberlain factored into my decision to come to Bowdoin in a major way. All of my family members went to big universities, so I really knew nothing about small, liberal arts colleges when I was younger. When I learned about the Civil War in 8th grade, however, my father suggested that I might some day look into Joshua Chamberlain's alma mater. After that, I started hearing more and more about Bowdoin, including the fact that my favorite teacher during high school, William Davies, is a Bowdoin alum. I figured that Bowdoin deserved serious consideration since it had produced two people who really inspired me.

I first visited Bowdoin when the lobster bake was underway, and that certainly made an impression, as well. Everyone looked happy, the food was delicious, and the weather was gorgeous; what more could I have wanted? My family also visited the Chamberlain Museum and posed with his statue, which made my father very happy. For me, though, walking around campus and seeing the beauty of the Quad really convinced me that I wanted the type of comfortable, welcoming environment that Bowdoin provides to every student.

Why did you choose your major?
I knew from the very moment I graduated from high school that I would become a history major. I grew up with a general knowledge of the histories of America, England, and Israel, and I always looked forward to history class in middle and high school. I even used to go to camp at Sunnyside, the home of Washington Irving, where we would play colonial-era games and learn how to make colonial-era crafts. I loved that sort of thing.

Choosing history as a major also allowed me to legitimately study my favorite subject of all: popular culture. I believe that analyzing mainstream culture is the most interesting way to get a sense for distant eras, and I am definitely one of those misguided, nostalgic types who pines for a past I never knew. Let's just say I have read a ludicrous amount of studies on 1960s British Invasion pop, know a few too many lyrics to Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and spent far too much time dressing up like Laura Ingalls Wilder as an elementary school student. As a history major, I can do further research in areas that have interested me all my life, while I am also constantly exposed to new topics from eras with which I am less familiar. Also, the fact that you can use literature and other forms of entertainment as historical evidence gives the major a much broader appeal.

Bowdoin history professors are, by and large, not as strict about learning names and dates as they are about seeing the bigger picture, so you can be extremely creative within the field. Practically, history majors develop strong analytical skills and graduate with a greater understanding of the precedents out of which modern society emerged. By examining context and connections in history, I think I have a more nuanced view of the world in general.

Minoring in film studies definitely fits in with my major because film is so reflective of 20th-century history. I have taken courses on American, Russian and German film and all of the films we look at have larger implications for the culture at the time in which they were produced. Film studies really takes popular entertainment seriously, and I appreciate the intellectual seriousness with which we approach film at Bowdoin.

What has been a course you especially enjoyed at Bowdoin?
Although I have enjoyed almost every class that I've taken here, two courses really stand out for me. The first is Film Studies 321: German Expressionism and Its Legacy, taught by Tricia Welsch. The class had the most interesting lineup of films: from those of the Weimar era in Germany to the later American films that expressionism influenced, such as Night of the Hunter from the '50s and Rumble Fish, a Coppola film from the '80s. Our class had great discussions and debates about the films we watched, because so many of them were disorienting and seemed inscrutable, yet when we looked into their themes on a deeper level it was easy for us to see the ways in which the filmmakers succeeded at expressing the most abstract but recognizable human emotions through their art. There were only about a dozen students in the seminar, and we always had very fluid conversations in which every student played an active role.

My other favorite class would have to be David Hecht's History 277: Trials of the 20th Century. We started the first day of class by talking about the Harry K. Thaw trial, dubbed the "trial of the century" in 1906, and then we looked at many of the most important trials that followed in order to see what they could tell us about American life during their eras. The common theme to almost all of the trials was that they each received an enormous amount of media attention and really became the focal point for debates among Americans about cultural values and the concept of justice. Although each of the trials ultimately became a part of pop culture, my favorite case that we studied was Leopold and Loeb's trial from 1924 because they were two really fascinating characters who showed up in various pop culture incarnations after their trial. Prof. Hecht encouraged class participation and, even though there were 35 students in his course, it was great to see that everyone had strong opinions about the cases. He also assigned great primary source readings, which ensured that students would keep up with the workload. As our final assignment, we had to write an in-depth paper about one of the trials we had covered, and even though it wasn't on the syllabus, I wrote about John Lennon's assassination. This turned out to be my favorite essay of my entire college career, and I really tried to get creative with it. I wonder if anyone else in my class got to cite a microfiche of a 1980s Playboy magazine article as one of their sources!

What professor or professors have especially inspired you during your time at Bowdoin?
There are so many, and I will try to give each their due. Tricia Welsch should be an inspiration to everyone on campus; she is the only faculty member in the Department of Film Studies and manages to care deeply about the success of each of her many students. Film studies is an incredibly popular minor on campus, and Prof. Welsch might be the reason why: she takes film incredibly seriously, knows how to convey her excitement about film to students and always assigns interesting work in her classes.

On the history front, my advisor Sarah McMahon has always given me guidance whenever I needed it, and she is so enthusiastic in class that it is hard not to be moved by the material. When she talks about a particular moment in time, it is almost as though you get transported there because she weaves details and descriptive facts into the greater themes of her lectures so seamlessly. I always feel at home when I go in to discuss my major or just to chat with her.

I have taken two classes with David Hecht, and in each one he has infused the course material with an intellectual curiosity that is extremely valuable to his students. Besides being a great guy to talk to in general, he has also been incredibly supportive of my interest in pop culture. In my Cold War seminar, we were assigned several papers on a single topic that we were supposed to develop throughout the semester. I started out by focusing on the Six Day War in relation to the Soviet/American power struggle, and in the eleventh hour, after successfully completing my first paper on that subject, I suddenly felt compelled to write about the UFO sighting craze as a Cold War phenomenon. Since the upsurge in sightings began in the late '40s, I knew I had a case, but it was a bit insane to start so late in the game! Still, Prof. Hecht understood my enthusiasm and helped me with every step of the process. He really does care about his students, which is obvious in class as well as in office hours.

Page Herrlinger and Dallas Denery have also inspired me, as both are so knowledgeable about the material in the courses they teach and strive to convey their interests to their students in fun and interesting lectures and discussions. Plus, Prof. Herrlinger makes a mean borscht and Prof. Denery always tells funny stories at the beginning of class.

In a completely unrelated area, Marilyn Reizbaum taught Introduction to Poetry last semester, and even though I did not feel confident at all about analyzing and writing poetry, she was incredibly supportive and always told me to stop stressing out and relax. She was always willing to meet about a paper, even if she thought I didn't need the help, just so that I wouldn't worry. The consideration and encouragement she gave me really helped me get through a stressful semester, and I'll always appreciate that.

What extracurricular or work experiences have you had at Bowdoin?
I have been involved with the Bowdoin Cable Network since December of freshman year, and ever since then it has essentially taken over my life. I started working on BCNews at the tail end of its first semester, and started producing, editing, directing and anchoring the show in the fall of sophomore year. When I say I spend about 40 hours a week doing things for the show, this is probably an understatement; between conducting interviews, answering e-mails, writing stories and producing a 30-minute program each Sunday under constant threat of technical difficulties and server meltdowns, let's just say I sometimes view homework as a leisure activity. I have really tried to improve the show from its somewhat-primitive beginnings: this year we are doing more on-location shooting and I am encouraging my writers to edit their own stories and footage, which is what beginning journalists do on the job. I really think that the show provides a great outlet for students interested in broadcast journalism and production.

This year, I am also co-leading BCN with my friend Steven Bartus, who is the general manager and my ally. I am responsible for all of the programming on our closed circuit network, which means that most of my time has gone into developing new content. Previously, BCN had perhaps three or four shows in production, but so far I've heard over a dozen pitches for new shows and I hope to carry through with production on many of them. I want to get as many people involved with the organization as possible because the studio is a wonderful resource that is often overlooked.

I am also a writing assistant with Bowdoin's Writing Project. I was nominated to become an assistant during my freshman year, and I have really enjoyed being able to help my fellow students improve their writing skills. I'd have to admit that editing papers makes me much less stressed than editing video! I know how hard it can be for students at Bowdoin to become confident about their writing skills, because our coursework can be extremely challenging. I tutor a student in a writing partnership through the program, as well, and I think the personal relationship we've developed and the growth I have seen in this student's writing over the years is one of the most rewarding aspects of my involvement with the Writing Project.

What have you done during your summers?
After my freshman year, I went traveling around Europe with my family to visit our relatives in Brussels, Amsterdam and Lugano. Going to college has made me realize how much I appreciate and love my family, so I always try to spend as much time with my parents and sister as possible when I am free to do so. That summer presented the perfect opportunity for this.

The summer after sophomore year, I interned at Plum TV in New York's Bridgehampton as a producer/editor. The hours were insane: we got to the set every morning at 6:00 and sometimes didn't leave until 10:00 at night. We also only got 1.5 days off and didn't get paid...but it was a great experience. I got a bunch of my segments aired, covered several very swanky and star-studded events and I read the event calendar section of the news on-air during the Plum TV Morning Noon and Night Show broadcast. I learned so much about stage managing, filming, and editing that it almost made up for the fact that I pinched a nerve in my neck while lugging around cameras and other equipment. From that experience, which affects me to this day, I also learned that sometimes you don't need to push yourself to the limit to do a good job, and that the most important thing for many control freaks/perfectionists to learn is how to delegate tasks to those who are more capable, or in my case, strong enough to pick up heavy tripods!

This past summer I interned at MTV Networks in New York City for a vice president of series development. This vice president oversaw the production of such programming as The Real World and Making the Band, and although I reported to her assistant and helped him with office work and archival organization, I learned a lot simply by looking at the types of paperwork that came through the office and the types of documents that needed to be filed. My boss was incredibly nice and supportive, and I looked forward to work. Plus, I got to watch the cuts of certain episodes of the shows we worked on months before they aired, and it was interesting to see how my boss's notes on each cut translated into the final product. After my internship ended, I traveled to China, Taiwan and Japan for a month, which helped to make up for the fact that I never went abroad. I had a fabulous time, ate a lot of good food, and learned a lot about life in the Far East. Needless to say, it was a great summer!

What is your best Bowdoin memory?
From freshman year, I loved the nights when I would hang out in Coleman Hall with my friends Jon Ragins and Travis Dagenais, just listening to music, talking and relaxing. In sophomore year, nothing could beat the cross country team's parties in Coles Tower 7A, my favorite of which had to be our first techno music video dance party, where we hooked up a few TVs to our beloved DJ Tim Katlic's collection of European classics. I think everyone else on campus hated those parties, because we really blasted the techno, but they were great nonetheless. Then there were the Sunday nights last year when some combination of Frank Chi, DJ, Alex Cornell du Houx, Clark Gascoigne and the Ironic T-Shirt guys would hang out editing work on their own projects in the BCN studio while I feverishly tried to put BCNews together. This always led to a weird atmosphere, because we would end up venting to each other about current events, or politics, or how devastating it is when that spinning ball pops up while you're in the middle of saving your project. There's something about the production process that makes everyone a little bit crazy, but it was comforting to have some solidarity with other crazy people, at least.

Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at Thorne Hall always make for classic Bowdoin memories, as does any seasonal event, really. I also love every trip I've taken to beaches in Maine.

I went swimming in the Maine waters for the first time ever at the behest of my boyfriend, Mike Young, on September 3, 2005, at Popham, and I will always remember the beautiful weather and the absolute happiness that I felt there. I got to interview OK Go in 2006 when they came for Ivies, and they ended up talking to me for about 40 minutes, so that certainly made me feel special because I am a big fan of theirs! More recently, I took a trip to an Alpaca farm to get footage of "Alpaca Farm Day" for the news, and I got a huge kick out of that, to the amusement of my friends.

I think when I look back on Bowdoin after I graduate, I will miss the parties and the outings, but I will also remember the low-key dinners at Brunswick restaurants with my friends and the walks around the Bowdoin Quad that I take when the weather is misty and grey and the leaves are changing colors.

What are your plans for after graduation?
I hope to work in production development for a television network. I would really enjoy choosing shows to produce and following the projects through to fruition. No matter what I end up doing, though, I hope to have a positive impact on pop culture in some creative capacity. Also, I'd really like to meet Pete Townshend and somehow finagle a ticket to the Led Zeppelin world tour that's supposedly going to happen. Can you tell that the thought of graduating makes me a bit nervous? Well, the first part was serious.

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first-year about the Bowdoin experience?
Leave your high school baggage behind you when you get to college. No one at Bowdoin will care how popular or unpopular you were in high school as long as you try to make friends and become active in the community. There's nothing worse than the student who sits around all day watching TV (which I probably shouldn't say, since I hope to make TV eventually), because there are so many opportunities to do something great once you get to Bowdoin. With initiative, you can become a campus leader with relative ease, and if you feel, for any reason, as though your interests aren't represented by any academic department or existing club, you can put together your own organization to solve this problem. Then again, Bowdoin has such a diverse student body that you are bound to fit in somewhere. Even within groups that interest you, though, there is always room to truly and constructively contribute to the campus environment.

Consequently, you should do whatever you can to blow off stress as often as possible. The work load here is demanding, especially if you are heavily involved in extracurriculars, but it is important to remember to enjoy life and spend time with friends because you only have four years on campus!

What quirky or fun thing did you wish you knew before you came to Bowdoin?
I wish I had known that I'd eventually become a track team groupie, because I never would have believed it! Ever since I was forced to play field hockey in 7th grade and subsequently received three concussion-creating blows to the head by hockey sticks, I have had an irrational hatred for team sports. However, my proctor group in freshman year was populated almost entirely by members of the track team. Through them, I met their teammates, and now most of my best friends are cross country or track team athletes. It's actually a bit ridiculous, but it has worked out well because many of the people on the staff at BCN are friends of mine from the track team who have joined because of my persistent entreaties. When new classes of track kids come to school, they inevitably ask if I am a member of the team. Alas, I still fear sports, but I have come to respect my friends for their self-discipline, their commitment to good health, and their all-around skills on the course, in academics, and in leadership positions. Coming into college as an alleged alterna-chick with blue, purple and pink George Clinton-esque hair, I just never thought I'd end up the straight-edge, healthy-living square that I am now, but I am all the happier for it. Thanks, track team!

Story posted on October 08, 2007

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